Amazon founder and space enthusiast Jeff Bezos is all set for his maiden cosmic trip aboard the Blue Origin on July 20, but Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group, may just pip him at the post.
Both the billionaires, Bezos and Branson, are competing in the suborbital tourism race to take paid passengers on short flights to the edge of space.
Bezos chose July 20 as it marks the 52nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landing on the moon.
Virgin Galactic is mulling rescheduling the flight of its spacecraft VSS Unity to launch Branson into space on the weekend of July 4, the American Independence Day, reported CNBC.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had on June 25 cleared Branson's Virgin Galactic to fly customers into space and upgraded its existing licence, reported Bloomberg.
A blogger based in Mojave (California) had earlier suggested that Branson may try to beat Bezos by personally flying to space over the Independence Day weekend. The posts indicated that Virgin Galactic was preparing for the next spaceflight launch in just 43 days after its May 22 test flight.
Virgin Galactic claimed that its May 22 test flight with two pilots achieved a speed of Mach 3 and reached space at an altitude of 55.5 miles, reported AP.
The blogger’s report was taken seriously because he is based in the same area, Mojave, where Virgin Galactic manufactures its spacecraft.
Earlier, Virgin Galactic had said the company would conduct three more spaceflights to complete development testing of spacecraft VSS Unity before flying passengers to the edge of space in early 2022.
Branson was supposed to be on the second test ride with the first one carrying four passengers to test the spacecraft’s cabin. The third would fly members of the Italian Air Force for professional astronaut training.
Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier confirmed in an interview with CNBC that they are now moving to 'cabin experience' after getting approvals for handling the technical aspects.
Billionaire technocrat Branson has been single-mindedly working towards his goal since 2004. Virgin Galactic aspires to focus on quick turnaround time and intends to fly multiple spacecraft every week.
Billionaire Bezos started his space company Blue Origin way back in 2000.
Bezos auctioned a passenger seat for the July 20 space flight for $28 million. The winner of the auction will join Bezos and his young brother Mark on the adventure. The $28 million will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, ‘Club for the Future’ to inspire the next generation to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.
Both Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft reached an altitude of about 80-100 km (or about 260,000-330,000 feet), spending a few minutes floating in microgravity.
Billionaire Elon Musk is also planning to send tourists to space through his venture SpaceX.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)