Richard Branson launches into space, Jeff Bezos to follow days later


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — Virgin Galactic will become the first rocket company to launch the boss when Richard Branson straps into one of his sleek, shiny space planes this weekend.

The self-described tie-loathing adventurer and troublemaker will join five company employees for Sunday’s test flight from New Mexico’s southern desert — the company’s fourth trip to the edge of space.

Branson took off Sunday from New Mexico, launching with two pilots and three other employees aboard a rocket plane carried aloft by a double-fuselage aircraft.

In a newly released video from Virgin Galactic, spectators get a glimpse of what it’s taken to launch Branson and his crew into space.

During a team huddle, lead astronauts prep the founder for what’s to come — the sensory overload he can expect.

“It’s quite dramatic, yeah? So you’ll get pushback in your seat,” one astronaut explains.

“When you get out of your seat and look out the window, for a moment, you will feel like you are inside a snow globe because these beautiful silica flakes will be around the ship,” another astronaut explains.

If all goes according to play, the VSS Unity will take off at 7 a.m. Sunday. The flight will only last 10 minutes with three minutes of weightlessness.

This Sept. 8, 2016 photo made available by Virgin Galactic shows the company’s Spaceship Unity and Mothership Eve. After reaching nearly 50,000 feet (15,000 meters), Unity will be released and drop for a moment or two before its rocket motor ignites to send the craft on a steep climb toward space. (Virgin Galactic via AP)

But there’s cosmic competition. Branson assigned himself to Virgin Galactic’s first full-scale crew, jumping ahead of Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos, an even richer rocketeer looking to launch himself into space. Bezos’ liftoff is set for July 20 from West Texas.

Both flights — very different experiences. Branson’s flight will be longer, but Bezos’ will be higher.

Branson’s flight will be longer, but Bezos’ will be higher.

Branson’s craft has more windows, but Bezos’ windows are bigger.

Branson’s piloted plane has already flown to space three times. Bezos has five times as many test flights, though none with people on board.

Either way, they’re shooting for sky-high bragging rights as the first person to fly his own rocket to space and experience three to four minutes of weightlessness.

Branson, who turns 71 in another week, considers it “very important” to try it out before allowing space tourists on board. He insists he’s not apprehensive; this is the thrill-seeking adventurer who’s kite-surfed across the English Channel and attempted to circle the world in a hot air balloon.

“As a child, I wanted to go to space. When that did not look likely for my generation, I registered the name Virgin Galactic with the notion of creating a company that could make it happen,” Branson wrote in a blog this week. Seventeen years after founding Virgin Galactic, he’s on the cusp of experiencing space for himself.

“It’s amazing where an idea can lead you, no matter how far-fetched it may seem at first.”

Bezos, 57, who stepped down Monday as Amazon’s CEO, announced in early June that he’d be on his New Shepard rocket’s first passenger flight, choosing the 52nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing.

He too had childhood dreams of traveling to space, Bezos said via Instagram. “On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”

Branson was supposed to fly later this year on the second of three more test flights planned by Virgin Galactic before flying ticket holders next year. But late last week, he leapfrogged ahead.

He insists he’s not trying to beat Bezos and that it’s not a race. Yet his announcement came just hours after Bezos revealed he’d be joined in space by Wally Funk, one of the last surviving members of the so-called Mercury 13. The 13 female pilots never made it to space despite passing the same tests in the early 1960s as NASA’s original, all-male Mercury 7 astronauts.

Bezos hasn’t commented publicly on Branson’s upcoming flight.

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