Virgin Galactic: Richard Branson set to steal space race crown from under Jeff Bezos’ nose

Virgin Galactic space plane carries out test flight

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The 21st-century space race is heating up with billionaires instead of embittered nations vying for supremacy among the stars. Virgin Galactic, the brainchild of tech mogul Sir Richard Branson, looks set to clinch victory this month with a brief excursion into space pencilled in for July 11. After competitor Blue Origin announced former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos would sit on the company’s inaugural flight into space on July 20, Virgin Galactic decided to one-up its rival.

Sir Richard has announced this week he will launch next Sunday with three other crew members from the company’s Spaceport America base in the Mohave Desert.

The Unity 22 mission will mark Virgin Galactic’s fourth venture into space and the company’s 22nd overall test flight.

Weather permitting, the billionaire and his crew of flight specialists will blast off aboard the rocket-powered SpaceShipTwo Unity.

Sir Richard said: “I truly believe that space belongs to all of us.

“After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good.

“It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality.

“As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I’m honoured to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.”

Sir Richard will be joined by Beth Moses, the chief astronaut instructor at Virgin Galactic, as well as Sirisha Bandla, one of the company’s top executives.

The trio will also be joined by Colin Bennett, Lead Operations Engineer, as well as two pilots.

One of the pilots, Dave Mackay, is a former RAF test pilot-turned-British Chief Pilot of Virgin Galactic.

His colleague on this mission is Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot, Michael Masucci.

The launch is pencilled in for 2pm BST (9am EDT) on July 11 and will be broadcast on the internet.

Follow on the day of the historic flight to watch the flight live online.

Sir Richard is about to clinch victory from Jeff Bezos who is due to fly into space on July 20 with Blue Origin.

The world’s richest man will launch aboard the New Shephard spacecraft alongside his brother Mark and a host of other notable guests.

These include trailblazing pilot Wally Funk, 82, a member of the Mercury 13 – America’s first female astronaut candidates who were snubbed during the Mercury programme in the 1960s in favour of male pilots.

Announcing the news, Ms Funk said: “I can’t tell people that are watching how fabulous I feel to have been picked by Blue Origin to go on this trip. And I’ll love every second of it.”

When the mission launches, Ms Funk will become the oldest person ever to fly into space.

Also sitting in on the flight is an auction winner who has dished out an eye-watering £20.26million ($28million) to become an astronaut.

The Blue Origin flight will mark the New Shephard’s first launch with a human crew.

Unlike the Virgin Galactic spacecraft, which is a rocket-powered vehicle that is carried high into the atmosphere by another aircraft before launching, New Shepard is a single rocket with a crew capsule that launches from the ground.

The spacecraft will fly upwards and spend about four minutes in a free-float environment before coming back down to Earth.

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