Billionaires Battle for Commercial Space Firsts

Billionaires Battle for Commercial Space Firsts

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic VSS Unity spacecraft successfully reached space, completing the company’s fourth rocket-powered spaceflight Sunday, July 11, 2021. Meanwhile, Blue Origin, Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos’s space company, successfully completed their first human flight just nine days later in a rocket dubbed New Shepard, with four private citizens onboard. The crew included Jeff Bezos, Mark Bezos, Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen, who all officially became astronauts when they passed the Kármán Line, an internationally recognized boundary of space.

Branson and crew included mission specialists in the cabin Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, lead flight operations engineer; Sirisha Bandla, vice president of Government Affairs and Research Operations; and the company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson. The VSS Unity pilots were Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, while Kelly Latimer and CJ Sturckow piloted VMS Eve. The group fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and future customer experience, including evaluating the commercial customer cabin, the views of Earth from space, the conditions for conducting research and the effectiveness of the five-day pre-flight training program at Spaceport America.

Upon landing Blue Origin’s astronauts were greeted by their families and a ground operations team for a celebration in the West Texas desert. Some firsts for the Blue Origin team: included

• Wally Funk, 82, became the oldest person to fly in space.

• Oliver Daemen, 18, was the first ever commercial astronaut to purchase a ticket and fly to space on a privately-funded and licensed space vehicle from a private launch site. He also became the youngest person to fly in space.

• New Shepard became the first commercial vehicle under a suborbital reusable launch vehicle license to fly paying customers, both payloads and astronauts, to space and back.

• Jeff and Mark Bezos became the first siblings to ever fly in space together.

Of the Virgin Galactic trip, Sir Richard Branson said: “I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space. We are at the vanguard of a new space age. As Virgin’s founder, I was honored to test the incredible customer experience as part of this remarkable crew of mission specialists and now astronauts. I can’t wait to share this experience with aspiring astronauts around the world.”

“Today was a monumental day for Blue Origin and human spaceflight,” said Bob Smith, CEO, Blue Origin. “I am so incredibly proud of Team Blue, their professionalism, and expertise in executing today’s flight. This was a big step forward for us and is only the beginning.” Blue Origin expects to fly two more crewed flights this year, with many more crewed flights planned for 2022.