SpaceX’s Elon Musk to visit space … with Virgin Galactic?

Elon Musk in plaid shirt and dark jacket addressing a group; large SpaceX logo in the background.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveiled the company’s manned spacecraft, the Dragon V2, designed to carry astronauts into space, during a news conference on May 29, 2014, in Hawthorne, California. Image via Kevork Djansezian/ Fortune.

Elon Musk wants to go, too

As Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos race into space, a third billionaire is also reportedly contemplating his own adventure in space tourism: Elon Musk. He’s reserved a seat to fly with Virgin Galactic, according to the company’s founder, Branson, while speaking with The Sunday Times in London on July 12, 2021. Tickets are rumored to go for $250,000. And Musk has reportedly put down a $10,000 deposit. Just when the business magnate will venture into space, though, remains unknown.

Branson acknowledged the purchase in the interview with The Times:

Elon’s a friend, and maybe I’ll travel on one of his ships one day.

Some friendly competition

Branson made a trip to suborbital space on July 11, 2021. It marked the first fully crewed flight for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo design, which a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry eight people, including two pilots. And it was the 22nd spaceflight overall for this particular SpaceShipTwo, named Virgin Space Ship Unity, or VSS Unity.

With the successful launch on July 11, Virgin Galactic appears poised to meet its goal for active commercial operations by early 2022.

Musk witnessed and supported Branson’s flight from Virgin Galactic’s commercial hub, Spaceport America, in New Mexico. Branson even tweeted a picture next to a shoeless Musk in the hours before the flight.

Virgin Galactic is aimed primarily at space tourists who will be content to pay large sums for brief, suborbital experiences. The space plane portion of Branson’s recent trip lasted about 15 minutes (or about as long as Alan Shepard’s first U.S. spaceflight in 1961). It carried him more than 53 miles (86 km) above Earth’s surface. That is high enough into the sky to witness the blackness of space, see the curve of the Earth and experience brief weightlessness.

SpaceX, on the other hand, seems focused on more distant travels, like lunar flybys and delivering cargo to the moon, Mars, and beyond. Its Crew Dragon spacecraft can already venture as far as Earth orbit. And its Starship, currently in development, is designed to carry people and costly payloads farther than the moon.

Bezos scheduled to fly July 20

In the meantime, the other billionaire making headlines is Jeff Bezos, who will ride on Blue Origin’s first crewed flight of the New Shepard on July 20, 2021. That’s assuming no technical glitches and good weather at Blue’s Origin’s West Texas launch site. His space voyage, by the way, is timed to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Bezos will fly with his younger brother Mark Bezos and his friend, 82-year-old Wally Funk, who dreamed of being an astronaut in an era when women still weren’t allowed to make the cut. Alongside them will be 18-year-old Oliver Daemen, son of Dutch equity company Somerset Capital Partners’ CEO Joes Daemen. The younger Daemen will be replacing the anonymous $28 million (USD) bidder who initially won the New Shepard seat at auction.

Jeff Bezos is said to be the richest man in the world, although called Musk the world’s richest or 2nd-richest person behind Bezos. Guess it depends on which day that evaluation is made. That said, Musk is certainly wealthy enough to sample various suborbital offerings.

But given the long-standing rivalry between the two affluent entrepreneurs, it’s unlikely Musk will be booking a spaceflight with Blue Origin anytime soon.

Bottom line: As Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos race into space, a third billionaire pursues space tourism: Elon Musk. He’s reserved a seat to fly with Virgin Galactic, the company’s founder Branson told The Sunday Times. When the business magnate ventures into space, though, remains unknown.

Read more from EarthSky: The billionaire space race and the Karman line

Via The Sunday Times

July 18, 2021

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