— Internet News

Billionaire Blastoff: Rich riding own rockets into space

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Two billionaires are putting everything on the line this month to ride their rockets into space. The lucrative, high-stakes chase for space tourists will unfold on the fringes of space — 55 miles to 66 miles (88 kilometers to 106 kilometers) up, pitting Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson against the world’s richest man, Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos. It’s intended to be a flashy confidence boost for customers seeking their short joyrides.

Branson is due to take off Sunday from New Mexico, launching two pilots and three other employees aboard a rocket plane carried aloft by a double-fuselage aircraft. Bezos departs nine days later from West Texas, blasting off in a fully automated capsule with three guests: his brother, an 82-year-old female aviation pioneer who’s waited six decades for a space shot, and the winner of a $28 million charity auction.


Branson’s flight will be longer, but Bezos’ will be higher.

Branson’s piloted plane has already flown to space three times. Bezos has five times as many test flights, though none with people on board. Branson’s craft has more windows, but Bezos’ windows are bigger. Either way, they’re shooting for sky-high bragging rights as the first person to fly his rocket to space and experience three to four minutes of weightlessness.

Branson, who turns 71 in another week, considers it “very important” to try it out before allowing space tourists on board. He insists he’s not apprehensive; this is the thrill-seeking adventurer who’s kite-surfed across the English Channel and attempted to circle the world in a hot air balloon.

“As a child, I wanted to go to space. When that did not look likely for my generation, I registered Virgin Galactic with the notion of creating a company that could make it happen,” Branson wrote in a blog this week. Seventeen years after founding Virgin Galactic, he’s on the cusp of experiencing space for himself.

“It’s incredible where an idea can lead you, no matter how far-fetched it may seem.

Bezos, 57, who stepped down Monday as Amazon’s CEO, announced in early June that he’d be on his New Shepard rocket’s first passenger flight, choosing the 52nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing. He, too, had childhood dreams of traveling to space, Bezos said via Instagram. “On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”

Later this year, Branson was supposed to fly on the second of three more test flights planned by Virgin Galactic before flying ticket holders next year. But late last week, he leapfrogged ahead.

He insists he’s not trying to beat Bezos and that it’s not a race. Yet his announcement came just hours after Bezos revealed he’d be joined in space by Wally Funk, one of the last surviving members of the so-called Mercury 13. The 13 female pilots never reached the area despite passing the same tests in the early 1960s as NASA’s original, all-male Mercury 7 astronauts.

Bezos hasn’t commented publicly on Branson’s upcoming flight.

But some at Blue Origin already are nitpicking that their capsule surpasses the designated Karman line of space 62 miles (100 kilometers) up, while Virgin Galactic’s peak altitude is 55 miles (88 kilometers). International European aeronautic and astronautic federations recognize the Karman line as the official boundary between the upper atmosphere and space. At the same time, NASA, the Air Force, the Federal Aviation Administration, and some astrophysicists accept a minimum altitude of 50 miles (80 kilometers).

Blue Origin’s flights last 10 minutes when the capsule parachutes onto the desert floor. Virgin Galactic’s last around 14 to 17 minutes from when the space plane drops from the mothership and fires its rocket motor for a steep climb until it glides to a runway landing.

Molly Aronson

I'm an award-winning blogger who enjoys all things creative but is especially passionate about lifestyle design. I blog over at mehlogy.com I love that I get to share my passion for healthy living, fashion, fitness, and travel with readers from all over the world.

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