Richard Branson Leads Billionaire Space Race

Virgin Galactic CEO has reached space before former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Richard Branson space

Sir Richard Branson, an eclectic billionaire who founded Virgin Galactic and controls roughly 400 companies, departed Earth for a short jaunt into space on July 11--just hardly more than a week before Bezos is scheduled to do the same on July 20. Branson’s Virgin Galactic is the commercial space travel subsidiary of global conglomerate Virgin Group.

“I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space,” Branson said. “We are at the vanguard of a new space age. As Virgin’s founder, I was honored to test the incredible customer experience as part of this remarkable crew of mission specialists and now astronauts. I can’t wait to share this experience with aspiring astronauts around the world.”

The July 11 flight was the 22nd test of the VSS Unity and the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin. The test flight will help pave the way for commercial space flights with paying customers. 

“Today is a landmark achievement for the Company and a historic moment for the new commercial space industry,” Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said in a statement. “With each successful mission we are paving the way for the next generation of astronauts. I want to thank our talented team, including our pilots and crew, whose dedication and commitment made today possible. They are helping open the door for greater access to space--so it can be for the many and not just for the few.”

The flight reached an altitude of 53.5 miles--which is below the Kármán line point of an altitude of roughly 62 miles. That designation has become a point of contention between the space companies of Branson and Bezos. Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin, plans to take its first manned flight above the Kármán line later this month. 

“From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name,” Blue Origin tweeted July 9.

Bezos’ space flight will take place just weeks after he stepped down as the leader of Amazon on July 5. Andy Jassy, formerly CEO of Amazon Web Services, has taken over as CEO of Amazon.