British billionaire Richard Branson eventually became the first tycoon to travel to space in a ship of his own company. This Sunday he reached a height of 80 kilometers with four of his employees, and thus won the space race over Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.
The takeoff took place in New Mexico, in the southwestern United States, and the flight had no other objective than that of spend a few minutes in weightlessness, before returning to earth.
Branson, with his company Virgin Galactic, seeks to propel the nascent space tourism industry. But he also wanted to surpass his competitor, the American Bezos, taking the title of the first billionaire to cross the space border thanks to the ship of a company that he founded.
Virgin Galactic’s ship, in which Richard Branson won the space race. AFP photo
After a delay of an hour and a half due to weather conditions, the company’s space plane took off from Spaceport America base around 0840 local time mounted on the VMS Eve propellant ship and with the six members of its crew on board. including Branson, the founder of the firm.
The plane, with dimensions similar to those of a private jet, was fluidly separated from the craft VMS Eve, named after Branson’s mother, after reaching a height of about 10,000 feet (just over 3 kilometers), and then continuing its journey to the frontiers of space and 80 kilometers above the surface of the Earth.
“A great day ahead. Great to start the morning with a friend,” Branson tweeted two hours before liftoff alongside a photo of him and SpaceX chief Elon Musk posing barefoot in a kitchen.
Musk, a great rival of Bezos, had indicated on Saturday that he would be present at the event.
“I feel good, excited and prepared,” added Branson, who had a very precise mission during his trip: to test and evaluate the experience that his future clients will have.
Other billionaires have already been in space in the 2000s, but aboard Russian rockets.
After the engine was turned off, the company reported that the passengers were dislodged from their seats and floated for a few minutes in weightlessness, admiring the curvature of the Earth from one of the 12 cockpit windows.
Then, after reaching a peak altitude of about 90 km, the ship glided down and the successful landing occurred at 10.40 local, on a runway at Spaceport America Air Force Base.
The landing of the ship in which Richard Branson traveled into space. Photo EFE.
Branson, while flying, described the experience as “unique in life”.
The eccentric 70-year-old billionaire, founder of the Virgin group – whose activities range from an airline to sports – has long cultivated an impetuous image, with a number of sporting exploits.
“When I was a child, I wanted to go into space. As that seemed unlikely to my generation, I registered the name Virgin Galactic, with the idea of creating a company that would make it possible,” wrote Richard Branson a few days ago.
A goal that almost failed in 2014: the in-flight accident of a Virgin Galactic spacecraft caused the death of a pilot, considerably delaying the program.
Since then, VSS Unity hit space three times, in 2018 and 2019, with pilots on board and even a passenger in 2019.
After Sunday, Virgin Galactic plans two more test flights, to later start regular business operations by early 2022. And, in the long term, it aims to make 400 flights a year from Spaceport America.
Richard Branson and the rest of the crew on the ship that arrived in space this Sunday. Photo Reuter
Some 600 tickets have already been sold to people from 60 different countries, including Hollywood celebrities, for a price of between $ 200,000 and $ 250,000.
Although Branson keeps repeating that “space belongs to everyone”, adventure is still within the reach of a privileged few.
“When I return (from space), I will announce something very exciting so that more people can become astronauts,” he promised.
Competition in the space tourism sector, whose imminent start has been announced for years, accelerated precipitously this month: the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, also is scheduled to take to the skies on July 20 with his own rocket, named New Shepard and developed by his company Blue Origin.
The firm wielded its merits on Friday against those of Virgin Galactic. This Sunday, however, Bezos wished Richard Branson “a successful flight” on his Instagram account.