Branson plans to ‘reach for the stars’, nine days ahead of Bezos

2 Jul 2021

Crew of the VSS Unity 22 flight. From left: Dave Mackay, Colin Bennett, Beth Moses, Richard Branson, Sirisha Bandla, Michael Masucci. Image: Virgin Galactic

As the commercial space race heats up, Virgin’s Richard Branson will be evaluating the ‘customer experience’ on a trip to the edge of space.

Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, announced that he will be joining the crew of the Virgin Galactic flight VSS Unity into suborbital space on 11 July, nine days ahead of the flight planned by competitor Jeff Bezos.

The Virgin Galactic trip will be crewed by six people – two pilots and four specialists. Branson’s specialist role will be “evaluating customer spaceflight experience”, according to Virgin Galactic.

“I’ve always been a dreamer,” said Branson via Twitter. “My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars. On 11 July, it’s time to turn that dream into a reality aboard the next Virgin Galactic spaceflight.”

He also teased that after returning from space, he would announce “something very exciting to give more people the chance to become an astronaut”.

Meanwhile, Amazon founder Bezos is due to travel above the Earth’s surface on 20 July onboard the Blue Origin spaceflight.

Scheduled 52 years after the Apollo 11 crew first walked on the moon, Bezos will be accompanied by a still unknown $28m charity auction winner, his brother, and pilot Wally Funk.

Funk trained with the first astronauts to venture into space in the early 1960s but never became an astronaut because she was a woman. She continued to pursue aviation and has clocked up 19,600 flying hours and taught more than 3,000 people to fly.

Now, at 82 years of age, Funk will be the oldest person to venture into space, passing out John Glenn’s record at 77 years old.

Branson’s Virgin has been making big investments in space, with Virgin Orbit’s second successful commercial launch taking place on 30 June. Virgin Orbit carried seven payloads in total and demonstrated the viability of flying small spacecraft into space on a short time frame.

Amazon and Virgin aren’t the only players in the commercial space game, however, with recent announcements from Elon Musk’s SpaceX suggesting a space flight is just around the corner.

While Musk hasn’t given a date for Starship’s first orbital flight, he has stated that it will be in the next few months.

Sam Cox was a journalist at Silicon Republic covering sci-tech news