As billionaire Richard Branson prepares to launch into the stratosphere on Sunday, Virgin Galactic is pulling out all the stops to make its founder’s first flight a spectacle worth tuning into.
The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert is hosting a livestream of the event, and singer-songwriter Khalid announced he’ll be debuting a new single live on stage after the spaceplane’s landing. Branson has also teased plans to “announce something very exciting to give more people the chance to become astronauts” once he comes back down to Earth.
Branson will join three crew members and two pilots on Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered spaceplane, the VSS Unity, for its first fully crewed flight test to the edge of space on Sunday. If everything goes smoothly, the flight is expected to last about 90 minutes based on previous tests, both launching and landing at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
This mission marks the VSS Unity’s 22nd test flight and Virgin Galactic’s fourth crewed mission beyond Earth’s atmosphere, according to a company announcement. More importantly, though, it will give Branson bragging rights for beating his rival Jeff Bezos to space. The billionaire Amazon founder is scheduled to make the journey aboard Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket on July 20.
It’s worth noting that Bezos first announced these plans back in June. Branson was initially scheduled to travel to space on a later flight, but last week he declared the launch window had been moved up to July 11, just nine days ahead of Bezos. Of course, the two spaceflights are completely unrelated, Branson told the Washington Post, calling it just a “wonderful coincidence that we’re going up in the same month.”
Part of me hopes that with Branson making it to space this weekend, it will finally put this thinly veiled dick-measuring contest to rest. But then I remember that this launch is just the first of many milestones in the so-called billionaire space race to stake out a claim in the space tourism industry. Yippee...