The billionaire space race has officially become a thing, seemingly replacing the Cold War Era showdown between the United States and USSR from back in the day. These days, the stakes are a bit lower on the global thermonuclear war front, but the dollar amounts are staggering for what guys like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and now Richard Branson as part of the initiative. Bezos looked like he was going to get there first, but Branson took the honor earlier in the week when he lifted off in his Virgin Galactic rocket and sped off briefly into the cosmos.
Richard Branson became the first person to go into space in a vehicle he helped fund and pay for, something he and Jeff Bezos had been vying for over the last couple of years. It hasn’t appeared that Elon Musk wanted to get into that part of the rocket contest. The Virgin Galactic flight took off from New Mexico with six crew members. Four were passengers that included Branson and two were the pilots. It exited the atmosphere and the ship hung in orbit for a few minutes while the group got out to experience the weightlessness of space. It then returned to old terra firma. Check out the brief video the company posted.
That being said, there might be some controversy around whether Richard Branson actually went to space or if there is actually another level of space that Jeff Bezos could be the first billionaire to enter. The United States definition of space is based on what was originally the Karman Line, which started around 80 kilometers above the Earth’s surface. But that number has now actually been extended to around 100 kilometers. If that were the case then the 83 kilometers Branson went to might not count by certain definitions.
If this were the case then we could see some controversy around which guy actually got there first. Such is the nature of billionaire contests of this type. On July 20th, Jeff Bezos will board his Blue Origin New Shepard rocket along with three other passengers, one his brother Mark. Another passenger will be a now-anonymous, person who won an auction for the chance to take the trip as well. That ticket cost a cool $28 million when it was all said and done.
The billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson have trumpeted the idea that these initiatives will ultimately spur the chance for others to reach space on a more affordable level. It’s been marketed as a chance to proliferate space travel as a piece of tourism, though right now the dollar figures around the flights, of course, predispose it being readily available for the ultra-wealthy only. But that could change in coming years with more and more companies entering the race to space.
This next launch for Jeff Bezos on Blue Origin comes following the news that he has stepped down as CEO of Amazon, the company he founded years ago. Though he is still heavily involved, the duties have been officially turned over to someone else as he works on these other initiatives.