Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson set to go to space 9 days before Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin

There is really no material value in one billionaire beating another billionaire to space. Yet Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson is scheduled to be aboard his company’s spacecraft during a suborbital flight before Jeff Bezos rides his rocket with Blue Origin.

Virgin Galactic has announced that its next space flight is scheduled for July 11 and will include company founder Richard Branson. The space flight is a crewed flight demonstration that will take place before Virgin Galactic begins flying customers to space.

Blue Origin announced prior to this development that its founder Jeff Bezos (of Amazon fame) will be among the first crew to travel to space on its New Shepard rocket on July 20. This date marks the 52nd anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission when Americans landed on the Moon. The Blue Origin flight was announced on May 5, some 60 years after Alan Shepard became the first American to travel to space, The rocket that will send Bezos to space is named after the history-making NASA astronaut.

Here are recent developments that lead up to this moment:

Billionaire races to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere aside, there are differences in how Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin plan to take passengers to where Earth becomes space.

Virgin Galactic, which is a publicly traded company ran by a former Disney executive, has developed a high-end flight package for passengers on SpaceShipTwo Unity, a plane-shaped launch vehicle that takes off from Spaceport America.

Blue Origin has a more traditional approach with its New Shepard launch vehicle. A capsule holds the crew atop a rocket that takes it to space before parachuting back to Earth at its West Texas desert launch site. Blue Origin also touts a premium passenger experience.

Space Explored’s take

First, smirst. We don’t blame the billionaires for wanting to be test passengers on their respective launch vehicles. It’s a surreal privilege as much as it is a demonstration of trust in your product. Flown passengers become trusted evangelists for their space experiences, and that’s a publicity positive.

The bigger picture is that not one but two private companies are reaching new milestones in someday making a flight to space as possible as a flight across oceans. Imagine where this new space industry will be when the children being born today are old enough to consider spaceflight.

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have been working toward these milestones since the early 2000s. Imagine what the next 20 years will bring for access to new heights.

Here’s the full press release for today’s development:

[9to5-press-release]

Virgin Galactic Announces First Fully Crewed Spaceflight

  • Test Flight Window for Unity 22 Mission Opens July 11
  • Four Mission Specialists to Evaluate Virgin Galactic Astronaut Experience
  • Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson Among Mission Specialists
  • First Global Livestream of Virgin Galactic Spaceflight

Virgin Galactic today announced that the flight window for the next rocket-powered test flight of its SpaceShipTwo Unity opens July 11, pending weather and technical checks.

The “Unity 22” mission will be the twenty-second flight test for VSS Unity and the Company’s fourth crewed spaceflight. It will also be the first to carry a full crew of two pilots and four mission specialists in the cabin, including the Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson, who will be testing the private astronaut experience.

Building on the success of the Company’s most recent spaceflight in May, Unity 22 will focus on cabin and customer experience objectives, including:

  • Evaluating the commercial customer cabin with a full crew, including the cabin environment, seat comfort, the weightless experience, and the views of Earth that the spaceship delivers — all to ensure every moment of the astronaut’s journey maximizes the wonder and awe created by space travel
  • Demonstrating the conditions for conducting human-tended research experiments
  • Confirming the training program at Spaceport America supports the spaceflight experience

For the first time, Virgin Galactic will share a global livestream of the spaceflight. Audiences around the world are invited to participate virtually in the Unity 22 test flight and see first-hand the extraordinary experience Virgin Galactic is creating for future astronauts. The livestream will be available to watch on Virgin Galactic.com and will be simulcast on the Virgin Galactic TwitterYouTube, and Facebook channels. It is expected to begin at 7:00 am MDT / 9:00 am EDT on the day of the flight.

The flight’s four mission specialists will be:

  • Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor at Virgin Galactic. Moses will serve as cabin lead and test director in space, overseeing the safe and efficient execution of the test flight objectives.
  • Colin Bennett, Lead Operations Engineer at Virgin Galactic. Bennett will evaluate cabin equipment, procedures, and experience during both the boost phase and in the weightless environment.
  • Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations at Virgin Galactic. Bandla will be evaluating the human-tended research experience, using an experiment from the University of Florida that requires several handheld fixation tubes that will be activated at various points in the flight profile.
  • Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic. Branson will evaluate the private astronaut experience and will undergo the same training, preparation and flight as Virgin Galactic’s future astronauts. The Company will use his observations from his flight training and spaceflight experience to enhance the journey for all future astronaut customers.

The pilots for this mission are Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci flying VSS Unity, and CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer flying VMS Eve.

Following this flight, and in line with normal procedures, the team will complete inspections of the vehicles and an extensive data review, which will inform the next steps in the test flight program. Two additional test flights are planned before the Company expects to commence commercial service in 2022.

Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said: “Our next flight—the 22nd flight test for VSS Unity and our first fully crewed flight test—is a testament to the dedication and technical brilliance of our entire team, and I’d like to extend a special thank you to our pilots and mission specialists, each of whom will be performing important work. Tapping into Sir Richard’s expertise and long history of creating amazing customer experiences will be invaluable as we work to open the wonder of space travel and create awe-inspiring journeys for our customers.”

Sir Richard Branson said: “I truly believe that space belongs to all of us. After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good. It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality. As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I’m honoured to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.”

About Virgin Galactic Holdings

Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. is a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, pioneering human spaceflight for private individuals and researchers with its advanced air and space vehicles. It is developing a spaceflight system designed to connect the world to the wonder and awe created by space travel and to offer customers a transformative experience. You can find more information at https://www.virgingalactic.com/

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