Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin and renowned richest person on Earth, was all set to launch himself into space on July 20 this year, finally fulfilling his childhood dream of going to space. The 10-minute flight will see Bezos, his brother Mark, and legendary aviatrix Wally Funk accelerate at over 3g, experience weightlessness in space, and finally returning to Earth (to the disappointment of some).
But as soon as Bezos announced his travel plans, rumors started flying that rival billionaire Richard Branson, who was also due to vaycay off-world in the company rocket at some point, was going to get there first.
And the rumors are true: in a statement released on July 1, Branson confirmed that he will be a passenger on Virgin Galactic’s upcoming “Unity 22” mission, slated for launch on July 11.
“It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality,” Branson said. “As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, 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.”
The “Unity 22” mission is so-dubbed because it is the 22nd flight test for the Virgin Galactic spaceplane VSS Unity. Out of those 22, this will be the fourth crewed spaceflight. The original plan for Unity 22 was to have four passengers from the Virgin Galactic company on board, who could report back on the tourist experience – whether the seats were comfy enough, how many aliens they had to fight off, that kind of thing. But in a move that some are regarding as less than cryptic, Branson announced that he would now be taking the place of one of these testers, putting himself in space a good nine days before Bezos.
Joining Branson on VSS Unity will be Chief Astronaut Instructor at Virgin Galactic Beth Moses, Lead Operations Engineer Colin Bennett, and Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations Sirisha Bandla. Those who want to watch the floaty magnate experience life off-Earth will be able to watch a livestream of the flight on the company’s website or social media from 9 am ET on July 11.
“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” Branson said of his $250,000-per-ticket holiday destination. “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.”