Space race between billionaires heats up

Spaceport America

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. (CBS Newspath) – We’re counting down to a giant leap forward in the billionaire space race. Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos are both launching this month on separate missions.

Branson is scheduled to be first this Sunday, July 11. Give Sir Richard Branson this much: the swashbuckling billionaire has a knack for making his dreams seem like outs.

In this case: space. He believes it’s for everyone. On Sunday morning, Branson will become the space tourist.

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Since 2004, his company Virgin Galactic has persevered through test flights and setbacks, like an accident in 2014 that killed a test pilot. “Space definitely is hard. We’ve had our tears, we’ve had our joys. But I’ll tell you what. The joys have been fantastic,” said Branson, Virgin Galactic founder.

Branson’s space voyaging will begin on a runway at Spaceport America in New Mexico. A 12,000-foot straightaway for Virgin Galactic’s mothership VMC Eve is a plane, a twin-fuselage aircraft with two pilots.

In the middle, it carries the spaceplane VSS Unity. At about 45,000-feet, Eve will release Unity. The spaceship will shoot straight up more than 50 miles where space begins.

“We’ve got massive windows all the way around. They’ll be able to unbuckle, and they’ll be able to float around. And they will have become an astronaut,” said Branson.

Branson and three other passengers, all employees, should experience a few minutes of weightlessness. Then Unity’s two pilots will glide everyone back to Earth.

“We really are going to be a hub for space tourism, for sub-orbital flight,” said Spaceport America Executive Director Scott McLaughlin. Virgin Galactic moved its operations to Spaceport America in 2019.

The nearest city is Truth or Consequences. Branson’s rival as a space baron? Jeff Bezos.

He’ll launch in his Blue Origin spaceship on July 20 as Branson will beat Bezos into space by nine days.

Virgin Galactic has a waiting list of 600 people eager to become astronauts. Each of them has paid a quarter-million dollars upfront for that chance. If Sunday’s flight goes well, as everyone hopes, some of those folks could start flying way up next year.

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