Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson will beat Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos into space by nine days after announcing plans to be Astronaut 001 on the firm’s July 11 test flight.
Bezos had already announced in June that he would be heading to space on July 20 alongside his brother and famed female astronaut Wally Funk on Blue Origin’s New Shepherd spacecraft, but Branson is now on track to beat Bezos by nine days.
Branson appeared in a Twitter video to announce his trip on Thursday, and introduced himself as ‘Astronaut 001.’
He said: ‘I’ll be evaluating the customer spaceflight experience. As the Virgin Galactic founder I am so proud to have this remarkable crew of mission specialists and pilots by my side as we fly to space.
‘I’ve always been a dreamer, my mum taught me never to give up and reach for the stars.
‘This July, that dream will become a reality, and we’re really excited to share with you all, and when we return I will announce something very exciting to more people a chance to become astronauts, because space belongs to us all. So watch this space.’
The aviation billionaire – who also set up Virgin Atlantic airlines – had declined to say when he might go into space as late as Wednesday.
He stressed that he was ‘fit and healthy’ and ready to go as soon as his engineers gave him the green light.
The tycoon shared another statement about his firm Thursday. It said: ‘After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good.
Richard Branson will be heading to space on a July 11 Virgin Galactic spaceflight
Virgin Galactic´s Richard Branson is planning to beat Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos being the first to blast off into space on their July 11 flight. Branson is pictured in 2019
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity, piloted by CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, is released from its mothership, VMS Eve, on the way to its first spaceflight after launch from Spaceport America, New Mexico in May
A photo shows the release of VSS Unity from VMS Eve and ignition of rocket motor over Spaceport America, New Mexico
‘I’m honored to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.’
It will be Virgin Galactic’s fourth test spaceflight and the first mission with a crew of four on board.
Branson will be taking off alongside Chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor who flew to space on the company’s second spaceflight mission.
Colin Bennett, the company’s lead operations engineer, will also join the flight. He will be Astronaut 003.
Sirisha Bandla, Virgin Galactic’s vice president of government affairs and research operations will also be on board as Astronaut 004.
This month’s Unity 22 mission will be the 22nd flight test for rocket plane VSS Unity and the company’s fourth crewed spaceflight. Virgin Galactic’s rocket travels 50 miles into the sky, to the edge of space, before gliding back to Earth and landing on a runway. Blue Earth will see its passengers parachute back to solid ground on capsules.
Virgin passengers will be able to see the curve of the Earth against the blackness of space. The entire flight lasts around 10 minutes, including three minutes of weightlessness.
Guests will pay around $250,000-a-ticket, with more than 600 so far reserving a seat. A date for passenger flights yet to be announced, although Virgin Galactic says it will begin its passenger service after three more successful test flights.
The main objectives Virgin’s next test flight, taking off from Virgin Galactic’s spaceport in New Mexico, will be ‘evaluating… seat comfort, the weightless experience and the views of Earth’ in the space cabin.
The company said it also wants to demonstrate the conditions for conducting human-tended research experiments and confirm the training program at Spaceport America supports the spaceflight experience.
Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor, who flew to space on the company’s second spaceflight mission will be on board
Colin Bennett, the company’s lead operations engineer, will also join the flight
Sirisha Bandla, Virgin Galactic’s vice president of government affairs and research operations
Dave Mackay will be piloting the Virgin Galactic spacecraft
Addressing the benefits of Branson embarking on the next space flight, Michael Colglazier, chief executive officer of Virgin Galactic, said: ‘Our next flight – the 22nd flight test for VSS Unity and our first fully crewed flight test – is a testament to the dedication and technical brilliance of our entire team, and I’d like to extend a special thank you to our pilots and mission specialists, each of whom will be performing important work.
‘Tapping into Sir Richard’s expertise and long history of creating amazing customer experiences will be invaluable as we work to open the wonder of space travel and create awe-inspiring journeys for our customers.’
Virgin Galactic plans three more test flights to the edge of space this summer and early fall, before launching with customers
Virgin Galactic plans three more test flights to the edge of space this summer and early fall, before launching with customers.
The company had originally put Branson on the second upcoming flight, but has now moved him up to the next one in order to beat Bezos blasting off.
Branson acknowledged it’s ‘very important’ for potential customers to see him strap in for a ride, before opening the doors to the paying public.
The thrill-seeking adventurer, who turns 71 in a few weeks, said he’s ‘not apprehensive at all’ about launching into space.
‘It’s a dream of a lifetime,’ he said.
Last week, Virgin Galactic got the Federal Aviation Administration’s OK to start launching customers
Last week, Virgin Galactic got the Federal Aviation Administration’s OK to start launching customers.
Virgin Galactic made its third flight to space in May, with two pilots in the cockpit of the winged spaceship.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is targeting July 20 for his rocket company’s first manned launch. The date was chosen to mark the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Blue Origin’s flight from West Texas will include Bezos, his brother, a charity auction winner who’s shelling out $28 million and pioneering female astronaut Wally Funk, 82.
Funk was one of 13 NASA astronauts who passed the same tests as their male counterparts in the early 1960s. But they were banned from going into space because of their gender.
Funk has also booked herself a seat on an upcoming Virgin Galactic flight too, meaning she could potentially take two trips into space before the year is out.
She will beat former NASA astronaut John Glenn’s record for being the oldest person in space. He was 77 when he last flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1998.
Glenn infamously dismissed the idea of sending women into space shortly after becoming the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962.
Unlike Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are looking to send space tourists on brief up-and-down hops – not into orbit around the world.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is targeting July 20 for his rocket company’s first launch with people
Participants enjoy the Blue Origin Space Simulator in June 2019. An unnamed bidder paid $28 million at auction on June 12, 2021, for a seat on board the first crewed spaceflight of Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin on July 20
Bezos plans to blast into space from West Texas on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing
Wally Funk, 82, – who beat John Glenn on tests during astronaut training in 1961 but was never selected – will beat his record as the oldest person in space after she is picked to make voyage on Blue Origin
A trailblazing 82-year-old female aviator who trained as an astronaut 60 years ago but was never selected for a mission is set to become the oldest person ever to go to space when she joins Jeff Bezos on Blue Origin’s first manned flight later this month.
Mary Wallace ‘Wally’ Funk will join Amazon boss Bezos, his brother Mark and the winner of an online auction as an ‘honored guest’ when they blast into orbit on the New Shepard rocket on July 20 – and in doing so will surpass former Senator John Glenn, who took a space shuttle flight in 1998 at the age of 77.
The trip is 60 years overdue for Funk, who was trained to be an astronaut in 1961 as part of the Mercury 13 project – a group of 13 American women who underwent the same training as NASA’s Mercury 7 men but were not selected for a mission because of their gender.
Funk even scored higher than Glenn – who was one of the Mercury 7 astronauts chosen to fly on Project Mercury in the 1960s – on some astronaut testing.
The Mercury 13 ‘successfully underwent the same physiological and psychological screening tests as the astronauts selected by NASA for Project Mercury,’ Blue Origin said in an email.
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Mary Wallace ‘Wally’ Funk will join Amazon boss Jeff Bezos on the Blue Origin mission this month
Blue Origin announced that 82-year-old astronaut Mary Wallace ‘Wally’ Funk will join Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark and the winner of the auction on Blue Origin’s first human flight later this month
Funk was part of the ‘Mercury 13,’ 13 American women who ‘successfully underwent the same physiological and psychological screening tests as the astronauts selected by NASA for Project Mercury’
Funk will become the oldest person to fly to space when she heads into orbit on July 20, surpassing former Senator John Glenn, who did so at 77 years old in 1998
The New Shepard rocket will launch on July 20, the 51st anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing
Despite popular belief, the Mercury 13 were not an official part of NASA’s astronaut program and were part of a privately funded program.
But it spurred Funk to pressure US officials into allowing women into the space program.
In a video for Blue Origin, Funk recalled: ‘They told me that I had done better and completed the work faster than any of the guys.
So I got ahold of NASA, four times. I said I want to become an astronaut, but nobody would take me. I didn’t think that I would ever get to go up.’
She said people told her ‘Wally, you’re a girl, you can’t do that.’
‘I said guess what, doesn’t matter what you are, you can still do it if you want to do it.’
Although the 13 women never flew to space, they did testify before Congress in the early 1960s to criticize NASA for not including women as astronauts.
It wasn’t until 1978 that NASA selected 35 astronauts, including the first six women, for the Space Shuttle Program.
Bezos, 57, broke the news to Funk personally that she would be joining him on the trip.
The video shows Bezos describing the flight to Funk, and then asking her what would be the first thing she said after landing.
‘I would say, ‘Honey, that was the best thing that ever happened to me!” replies an exuberant Funk, throwing her arms around the laughing tech mogul.
A Blue Origin spokesperson told DailyMail.com that Funk will undergo ‘minimal training’ for the 10-minute flight, getting acquainted with the safety procedures and preparations needed to travel to space over a period of two days.
The passengers will spend four minutes above the Karman line that marks the recognized boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.
Bezos, 57, told Funk personally, who upon hearing the news, said ‘Honey, that’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me’
Among Funk’s impressive achievements, she was the first female FAA inspector and first female NTSB air safety investigator in history
In this 2019 photo from NASA, Wally Funk (pictured) visited the Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field in Cleveland, Ohio
Members of the Mercury 13, from left to right: Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman
In addition to being part of the Mercury 13, Funk, who never married, has an extraordinarily impressive background.
At 20, she became a professional aviator, working as a civilian flight instructor at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
She was the first female FAA inspector and first female NTSB air safety investigator in history.
She became the 58th US woman to earn an Airline Transport Rating in 1968. She tried three times to get a job with commercial airlines, but was turned away because of her gender.
After NASA started accepting women to be astronauts in the 1970s, Funk applied three times but she was denied, as she did not have an engineering degree or a background as a test pilot.
Funk has logged more than 19,000 flight hours and ‘will be flying ’til I die,’ she said in a 2019 interview with The Guardian.
On the July 20th flight, she will join Bezos, his brother Mark and the winner of last month’s auction, who paid $28 million for a seat onboard the first crewed spaceflight.
HOW JEFF BEZOS IS SPENDING BILLIONS OF HIS OWN MONEY TO BUILD BLUE ORIGIN AND WIN THE BILLIONAIRE SPACE RACE
Amazon founder and outgoing CEO Jeff Bezos entered the space sector in 2000, two years before SpaceX was formed by Elon Musk.
Based in Kent, Washington, it originally focused on sub-orbital spaceflight services, building cheaper, more reliable and reusable launch vehicles.
They are gradually moving from suborbital to orbital flight in an incremental way and will launch humans to space on July 20.
Bezos will be on that first crewed flight along with his brother Mark, the winner of the auction, and three members of Blue Origin staff.
The firm currently has two launch vehicles, the suborbital New Shepherd, named for the first American in space, Alan Shepherd, and New Glenn, named for John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.
Bezos has announced they are also working on New Armstrong, after the first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, although no details have been revealed.
The identity of the top bidder is not yet known and will likely be announce shortly before the flight, experts have said.
The launch – which coincides with the 51st anniversary of the moon landing – will be the first test of Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket with people on board, kicking off the company’s space tourism business.
Bezos, the world’s wealthiest man and a lifelong space enthusiast, has been racing against fellow billionaires Richard Branson and Elon Musk to be the first of the three to travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere.
The space race is fueled by optimism that space travel will become mainstream as nascent technology is proven and costs fall, fueling what UBS estimates could be a $3 billion annual tourism market by 2030.
Blue Origin and Branson’s Virgin Galactic, as well as Musk’s SpaceX, have also discussed using their rockets to link far-flung global cities.
UBS says that long-haul travel market could be worth more than $20 billion, though several barriers such as air-safety certification could derail the plans.
Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas said: ‘Putting the world’s richest man and one of the most recognized figures in business into space is a massive advertisement for space as a domain for exploration, industrialization and investment.’
Blue Origin has not divulged its pricing strategy for future trips.
In 2018 that Blue Origin was planning to charge passengers at least $200,000 for the ride, based on a market study and other considerations, though its thinking may have changed.
The other three passengers on the New Shephard flight are Sian Proctor, a community college educator in Arizona, Chris Sembroski, a former Air Force missileman from Washington, and Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee.
The six passengers will spend at least 10 minutes floating in zero gravity inside the capsule during the suborbital sightseeing trip.
Blue Origin named the New Shepard program after astronaut Alan Shepard, who was the first American to fly into space exactly 60 years ago.
Washington state-based Blue Origin is largely self funded by Bezos, who has been selling over $1 billion worth of stock in Amazon per year to fund the company.
THE BILLIONAIRE SPACE RACE: HOW BRANSON, MUSK AND BEZOS ARE VYING FOR GALACTIC SUPREMACY
Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin’s space capsule
Dubbed the ‘NewSpace’ set, Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk all say they were inspired by the first moon landing in 1969, when the US beat the Soviet Union in the space race, and there is no doubt how much it would mean to each of them to win the ‘new space race’.
Amazon founder Bezos looks set to be the first of the three to fly to space, having announced plans to launch aboard his space company Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft on July 20.
The billionaire mogul will travel with his younger brother Mark, a former advertising executive and volunteer firefighter, and the winner of Saturday’s multi-million pound auction.
However, a report has suggested Branson might beat him to it, by making a suborbital flight two weeks before Bezos and his brother. The suggestion is the Virgin Galactic founder would travel on his VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo rocket plane on the July 4 weekend.
Although SpaceX and Tesla founder Musk has said he wants to go into space, and even ‘die on Mars’, he has not said when he might blast into orbit.
SpaceX appears to be leading the way in the broader billionaire space race with numerous launches carrying NASA equipment to the ISS and partnerships to send tourists to space by 2021.
On February 6 2018, SpaceX sent rocket towards the orbit of Mars, 140 million miles away, with Musk’s own red Tesla roadster attached.
Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule
NASA has already selected two astronauts who will be on-board the first manned Dragon mission.
SpaceX has also started sending batches of 60 satellites into space to help form its Starlink network.
Musk hopes this will provide an interconnected web of satellites around Earth which will beam down free internet to people worldwide.
Branson and Virgin Galactic are taking a different approach to conquering space. It has repeatedly, and successfully, conducted test flights of the Virgin Galactic’s Unity space plane.
The first took place in December 2018 and the latest on May 22, with the flight accelerating to more than 2,000 miles per hour (Mach 2.7).
More than 600 affluent customers to date, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have reserved a $250,000 (£200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space trips.
Branson has previously said he expects Elon Musk to win the race to Mars with his private rocket firm SpaceX.
Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft
SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and two pilots. Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows – one to the side and one overhead.
The space ship is 60ft long with a 90inch diameter cabin allowing maximum room for the astronauts to float in zero gravity.
It climbs to 50,000ft before the rocket engine ignites. SpaceShipTwo separates from its carrier craft, White Knight II, once it has passed the 50-mile mark.
Passengers become ‘astronauts’ when they reach the Karman line, the boundary of Earth’s atmosphere.
The spaceship will then make a suborbital journey with approximately six minutes of weightlessness, with the entire flight lasting approximately 1.5 hours.
Bezos revealed in April 2017 that he finances Blue Origin with around $1 billion (£720 million) of Amazon stock each year.
The system consists of a pressurised crew capsule atop a reusable ‘New Shepard’ booster rocket.
Bezos is one of the richest men in the world and Blue Origin has successfully flown the New Shepard rocket 15 times.
At its peak, the capsule reached 65 miles (104 kilometres), just above the official threshold for space and landed vertically seven minutes after liftoff.