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Virgin Galactic: Is UK billionaire Richard Branson the first one to kick off space tourism?

Richard Branson
Image credits: Richard Branson

Last year, the space industry saw a record-breaking investment of $9 billion (approx £6.5B) into private companies, says a report from McKinsey. While some companies provide services to government agencies like NASA, others want to venture into space with their rockets/planes. 

Many space companies have already started outlining their plans to deliver a commercial spaceflight in the near future. At present, the front runners are Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and SpaceX

Richard Branson isn’t first..!

Dennis Tito
Image credits: NASA

Recently, the UK businessman Richard Branson reached the edge of space and safely returned to earth, marking a turning point in the space tourism industry. Technically, Richard Branson isn’t the first space tourist; it is Dennis Tito. 

Yes, US millionaire Dennis Tito is the world’s first space tourist. On April 30, 2001, Tito reached ISS (International Space Station) through the Russian Soyuz rocket. He shelled out around $20 million (approx £14.4 million) to embark on this historic space trip. 

“When I flew in 2001, it wasn’t just someone [saying], ‘Oh I want to go become famous and fly in space.’ This was a goal I set in 1961,” says Dennis Tito. 

But, the second!

John Glenn
Image credits: NASA

After 20 years, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has successfully managed to reach the edge of space in his Virgin Galactic rocket plane, narrowly beating Jeff Bezos by nine days. It’s worth mentioning that Branson is the second septuagenarian to go into space. 

The US Astronaut John Glenn was 77 years old when he flew on the shuttle with six other astronauts. He was the oldest person to fly in space to date.

Branson’s first trip to space

On July 11th, Richard Branson, along with five crewmates, took off from a base in New Mexico in a Virgin Galactic vessel — a VSS Unity spaceship that his company has been developing for 17 years.

This was the spaceline’s fourth spaceflight and first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, including Virgin Group founder, Richard Branson.

VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve, and reached space at an altitude of 53.5 miles (86 kilometres). The crew shared photos of experiencing weightlessness and curvature of the earth. 

One and a half hours after take-off, the spaceship touched down safely at Spaceport America – the world’s only purpose-built commercial spaceport.

“The crew fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and 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,” says the company.  

Started in 2004

Richard Branson announced his plan to take passengers into space back in 2004. In fact, he even signed a £14 million agreement to make the commercial space trip, a reality by 2007. 

However, the technical difficulties, including the crash of developmental flight, made his space trip project a challenging one. 

After completing his space trip, 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.”

He added, “As Virgin’s founder, I was honoured 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 awe-inspiring experience with aspiring astronauts around the world.”

Partnership with Omaze

Virgin Galactic has announced a partnership with Omaze, an online fundraising platform that offers the chance to win once-in-a-lifetime experiences and prizes and support charities around the world. 

As a part of the partnership, a winning participant and their guest will receive seats aboard one of the company’s first commercial spaceflights.

According to the company, the donation goes towards Space For Humanity, a nonprofit seeking to democratise space and send citizen astronauts of diverse racial, economic, and disciplinary backgrounds to space.

Talking about the partnership, Branson continued, “Our mission is to make space more accessible to all. In that spirit, and with today’s successful flight of VSS Unity, I’m thrilled to announce Virgin Galactic’s new partnership with Omaze and Space for Humanity to inspire the next generation of dreamers. For so long, we have looked back in wonder at the space pioneers of yesterday. Now, I want the astronauts of tomorrow to look forward and make their own dreams come true.”