The billionaire-class space race was hectic on Thursday: Briton Richard Branson announced he planned to fly into space on July 11 aboard a Virgin Galactic spacecraft, hoping to overshadow rival Jeff Bezos, whose voyage space is scheduled for July 20th.
Competition is fierce between the two billionaires, who bet on putting their companies in the space tourism sector, with short suborbital flights.
In early June, Jeff Bezos announced that he would be on the first manned flight of the New Shepard rocket, developed by his company Blue Origin.
So the idea was to get ahead of Richard Branson, who has long said he wanted to participate in Virgin Galactic’s test flight before the start of regular commercial operations announced for 2022.
But the Briton paid back by announcing that he would be among the four people aboard the VSS Unity spacecraft, which will take off on July 11 from the southern state of New Mexico.
“The window for SpaceShipTwo Unity’s next test flight opens on July 11, awaiting technical and meteorological checks,” Virgin Galactic said in a statement.
“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” said Branson, quoted in the text.
“After 16 years of research, engineering and testing, Virgin Galactic is at the forefront of a new commercial space industry that should open up space for humanity,” he added.
– Media War –
The dispute between the two billionaires is accompanied by a media war.
Bezos pulled off a marketing stunt on Thursday by introducing the “honored” passenger on the July 20 flight.
It is the 82-year-old pioneer aviator Wally Funk, who will accompany the American billionaire on Blue Origin’s first manned space flight.
The trip arrives 60 years late for Funk, who was one of the “Mercury 13s”, the first women trained by the American space agency (NASA) to travel into space between 1960 and 1961, but finally excluded from the program for gender reasons. .
In a video posted on Bezos’ Instagram account as part of the ad, Funk appears saying that “I wanted to be an astronaut, but nobody wanted to take me. I didn’t think I would end up going.”
“No one has waited that long,” wrote Bezos. “Welcome to the crew, Wally.”
Funk, who was also the first female inspector for the US aviation agency, the FAA, will become the oldest person to go into space – so far the record held by 77-year-old American astronaut John Glenn – when he takes off. on the New Shepard ship alongside Bezos and his brother.
Also on board will be the unidentified winner of an auction, which paid $28 million for the seat.
The launch is slated for the 52nd anniversary of the moon landing of the Apollo mission in 1969, which featured historic astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
Ironically, Wally Funk also bought a ticket years ago to go into space on Virgin Galactic.
– A few minutes in zero gravity –
The devices developed by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are very different, although the result for passengers is more or less the same: being able to feel for a few minutes what it is like to be in zero gravity.
Virgin Galactic doesn’t use a classic rocket to launch its spacecraft into space, but an airplane that takes off from a runway and then drops the docked spacecraft, which then fires its engines when it reaches 50 miles before gliding down. This altitude is considered by the United States as the space frontier.
Two pilots will man the plane and four people, including Branson, will be aboard the VSS Unity.
In the case of Blue Origin, it is a more “classic” rocket that takes off vertically. The capsule separates at about 75 km of altitude, continuing its trajectory until it surpasses 100 km of altitude and the Karman line, which marks the beginning of space according to the international convention.
Passengers will then be able to leave their seats and observe the curvature of the Earth.
The capsule will then begin a free fall back to Earth, which will be slowed down by three large parachutes and thrusters before landing in a desert in west Texas. The journey will take a total of 11 minutes.
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