While the rest of the world continues battling the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and attempts to establish a new normal after being locked away in our homes for more than a year, Virgin Group founder/business magnate caricature Richard Branson is plotting out how to beat that dastardly Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in becoming the first billionaire to go to space. Yes, while you’re spending 10 minutes agonizing over whether or not you should spring for the extra $2.50 to add pepperoni to your pizza, billionaires are… doing this.
On Tuesday, Virgin Galactic announced that the window for the next test flight of its SpaceShipTwo Unity opens on July 11, and that Branson will be onboard as one of the flight’s Mission Specialists. Though it will be the vessel’s twenty-second test flight, hence the mission being dubbed “Unity 22,” it will only be its fourth manned spaceflight and the very first to be fully crewed.
So just what will Branson be doing onboard? We have to imagine he’s had somebody craft some sort of space-safe champagne flute, so that he’s not splashing it all over his designer space suit. But his real role is to play the role of “private astronaut” so that he can get a better idea of the kind of experience the Lance Basses of the world might be in for once space tourism becomes a reality. But Branson might have an ulterior motive: Beating Bezos to becoming the first billionaire to visit the great unknown.
Bezos, who has also dropped mad cash to make space travel a reality, previously announced that he’ll be headed into space on July 20. So if all goes well for Branson, he’ll beat him to it by more than a week. Bezos may have $190 billion more than Branson, but at least Branson has more private islands. And possibly soon, the title of First Rich Dude to Spend a Ton of Money to Travel to Space. Of course, Branson’s official announcement of the meaningfulness of this journey was much more magnanimous:
“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us. 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. 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. 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.”
And this, ladies and gentlefolk, is what people with too much time and money on their hands do. Wait until Elon Musk hears about this!