Two billionaires are neck and neck in the final sprint towards the Kármán line, but Richard Branson could win with a July 11 flight on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft, narrowly beating Jeff Bezos’ planned trip on July 20 aboard a Blue Origin New Shepard capsule. Whoever wins, the real lesson here is that with enough money you can really do anything.

The news arrived today in the form of an announcement from Virgin Galactic that the launch window for its next test flight opens at 6 a.m. PT on July 11, and that the mission will be the first to carry a full crew: two pilots, three specialists and a billionaire. (Blue Origin had its own ad, one of which is below.)

Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci will pilot the VSS Unity spacecraft; Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses will oversee the flight; Chief Operations Engineer Colin Bennett will oversee cabin equipment and procedures; Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations Sirisha Bandla will lead a microgravity experiment at the University of Florida; and finally, Sir Richard Branson “will assess the experience of private astronauts”. In other words, he is the first ordinary old passenger.

“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” the billionaire founder and private funder of the space tourism company said in the company’s press release. “After more than 16 years of research, engineering and testing, Virgin Galactic is at the forefront of a new commercial space industry, which is poised to open space for humanity and change the world. for real. It’s one thing to dream of making space more accessible to everyone; It’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn this dream into reality. As part of a remarkable team of mission specialists, I am honored to help validate the journey our future astronauts will take and to ensure that we deliver the unique customer experience that people expect from Virgin. “

The mission, like others in the Virgin Galactic style, will involve being transported by traditional means to what is normally considered high altitude, after which the rocket-powered VSS Unity will detach from the aircraft and zoom to ‘over 80 kilometers, generally (but not universally) considered the edge of space. Branson will have undergone the same training as future Virgin Galactic space tourists and will of course be wearing the same special blue suit.

If all goes according to plan, Branson will beat Bezos in just over a week and will likely win a long-standing bet.

Bezos, for his part, will ride on July 11 (again, despite the delays) in a more traditional launch vehicle, Blue Origin’s New Shepard, accompanied by his brother and a lucky ticket holder – lucky and rich, that is, since the ticket ended auctioned for $ 28 million to a part not yet announced.

However, the company announced today that the fourth passenger of the first crewed flight will be Wally Funk, the first graduate of NASA’s Mercury 13 program that trained female astronauts in 1961 – but the mission was canceled and Funk never went to space. After 50 years of waiting, it looks like she will finally have her chance.


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