Billionaire space race: How the Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson trips match up

Business

MarketWatch 17 July, 2021 - 09:02am 7 views

Where does Virgin Galactic take off from?

They will take off from the company's homeport of Spaceport America in New Mexico, with a live webcast chronicling the flight. Here's everything you need to know about the mission, which Virgin Galactic has dubbed Unity 22. Space.comVirgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Unity 22 launch with Richard Branson. See video and photos of the flight.

How long is Virgin Galactic flight?

How long will the space plane be up there? The trip will last in total about two and a half hours. However, Branson and his team will only be weightless in space for four to five minutes before the craft tilts and returns to Earth. The GuardianVirgin Galactic flight to the edge of space: your questions answered

Why is Branson going to space?

The Branson flight by Virgin Galactic is part of the company's bid to open seats to paying space tourists in the coming months. The 70-year-old Branson founded the company in 2004 and has been wanting to go to space since July 1969, when he saw the Apollo 11 astronauts landing on the moon. Space.comVideo of Richard Branson's desert bike ride was recorded before Unity 22 launch day, Virgin Galactic clarifies

Can I watch Branson space flight?

Space flight streamed online Virgin Galactic will present live video footage of the flight on its website, www.VirginGalactic.com, as well as its social media platforms on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. You can watch it on Las Cruces Sun News' website here. Las Cruces Sun-NewsVirgin Galactic to fly Branson on Sunday: Where to watch

By Hayley Richardson For Mailonline

Sir Richard Branson says he doesn't like being described as a billionaire and would prefer to be known as 'a creative who creates special things that people can enjoy'.

In his first UK interview since his Virgin Galactic spacecraft returned from a flight through the edge of the Earth's atmosphere last week, the British entrepreneur spoke with Lorraine Kelly live from his home on Necker Island this morning.

Sir Richard is the first person to enter space in their own vessel, a feat he accomplished nine days before Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to ride his own rocket ship - New Shepard - into space from Texas on July 20. 

Appearing on the ITV programme, he defended the £1billion project, arguing that space transforms our lives back here on Earth, and admitted he resents being labelled a billionaire.

Sir Richard Branson says he doesn't like being described as a billionaire and would prefer to be known as 'a creative who creates special things that people can enjoy'

'I  must admit I haven't liked the word billionaire,' he said. 'It's like, "Richard Branson, billionaire". I think what all of us [Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk] are trying to do is to spend our lives creating things that we can be proud of, that make a difference in the world and hopefully pay the bills at the end of the year. 

'Space was tough, we had 17 years when it nearly broke the bank account at Virgin. Now when Covid reared its head actually Space came and helped keep Virgin Atlantic's employees employed and Virgin Voyages employees employed and so on.'

He added: 'I like to feel myself as a creative who creates special things that people can enjoy and I think there's going to be a lot of kids watching this programme who one day will become astronauts and one day will go to space.'

Sir Richard claimed it 'didn't matter' to him that he beat Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to ride his own rocket ship into space, having brought his mission forward to do so. 

Sir Richard claimed it 'didn't matter' to him that he beat Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to ride his own rocket ship into space, having brought his mission forward to do so

'Elon was a real gent turning up and coming with his child to wish us well and watch the flight,' he told Lorraine.

'And Jeff I wish him all the best in a week's time. Again, Jeff's programme, Elon's programme, all our programmes will make a big positive difference.'

He went on: 'Space actually already transforms our lives back here on Earth, a lot of people just don't know that the phones they're using or the satellite link between us today is all to do with space - without space we wouldn't be connected. There are two and a half billion people in the world who are not connected.

'The same way we put Virgin Galactic up we put Virgin Orbit up which was a giant rocket from a 747 putting satellites into space and they will start connecting people.

'We've had scientists in our spaceships doing tests because Virgin Galactic goes to a place in the air that balloons can't reach and satellites can't get to. So scientists are really excited about the fact that they can do experiments and be in the spaceship when they're doing them which hasn't been able to happen before. 

In his first UK interview since his Virgin Galactic spacecraft returned from a flight through the edge of the Earth's atmosphere last week, the British entrepreneur spoke with Lorraine Kelly live from his home on Necker Island this morning

'There are so many things that benefit from space and so many more things I think that can now benefit from Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit's push into space as well.'

Sir Richard said he will continue to work towards 'sorting out the issues of the world' - with his trip to space spurring him on to do so.

'In the last 25 years I've devoted most of my life to trying to help sort out the issues of the world, climate change or rainforest issues or ocean degradation and so on,' he said.

'The next 25 years, being an optimist, we'll put the whole of the Virgin effort into all these different issues around the world. Most people who have been to space come back feeling the same way. 

'There's nothing else out there like Earth, we live on something with beautiful unique species that need to be protected and we've all got to get out to play our bit while we can and protect them.'

Describing the moment his rocket disconnected from the mothership, Sir Richard said:  'When they turn on the rocket you just go nought to 3,500 miles an hour in roughly eight seconds, and you’ve got the roar of the engine as you go straight up - you’re just looking straight up - and then that wonderful silence as you hit space'

Speaking about the reception he received back home on Necker Island following his mission, Richard said: 'I came down to wonderful comments from the grandkids - the youngest, the 2 year-old said, "Pappa gone to the moon!"

'It's been an absolute delight and when we got back to the island, everyone had dressed up in spacesuits and we had a wonderful welcome from the islanders. Plus lots and lots of kids, which is particularly pleasant about the whole adventure.'

On taking a call from Buzz Aldrin, he admitted: 'That was incredible because as a teenager I looked up at the moon when Buzz Aldrin was literally on the moon and Neil Armstrong, and that’s really what inspired me to do this program in the first place. 

'Plus, a phone in programme on English telly when somebody asked me the question, "Would you ever want to go up in a spaceship?" But Buzz is 91 years-old and it was obviously a great honour that he rang straight after the flight.'

Asked how he coped with the zero gravity, he recalled: 'The moment you know the body is working and you're not going to let the side down, you can just sit back and have the most ridiculous day of your life!

The successful mission made Sir Richard the second oldest person to travel to space - after 77-year-old John Glenn in 1998

'You're first of all taken up in the mothership to 60,000 feet and then dropped away and then when they turn on the rocket you just go nought to 3,500 miles an hour in roughly eight seconds, and you’ve got the roar of the engine as you go straight up - you’re just looking straight up - and then that wonderful silence as you hit space… and when you unbuckle, I mean Peter Pan was my favourite character figure as a kid and I’ve always wanted to fly… There’s no better way of putting it.

'[I felt] like a bird who had just taken off for the first time… you can then look out of these big windows back at Earth and Earth is an extraordinarily beautiful place, and we were all blessed to have those spectacular views.' 

The successful mission made Sir Richard the second oldest person to travel to space - after 77-year-old John Glenn in 1998. 

Prior to take off he told the Times newspaper that the view alone will be worth the £1billion he has spent on the project, and added: 'I think it's one of the reasons that people want to become astronauts. They want to look back at this beautiful Earth.' 

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Virgin Spaceman

Yahoo Entertainment 19 July, 2021 - 07:02am

IT IS 3 A.M. on launch day and there are some early signs that we are not in Cape Canaveral. I’m about 30 minutes into a pre-dawn press bus ride to Richard Branson’s stately space pleasure dome when United States Border Patrol officers join us at an I-25 New Mexico junction in search of “aliens”; and not the type that Richard Branson jokes will attach to his spacecraft later in the day. It’s all a bit surreal. This is a place you try to escape from; it is not your destination.

We’re on the road toward Branson’s Spaceport America, a sprawling complex located just down a desert road from Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, a town that changed its name for branding purposes. It’s not the last time this will happen in this neck of the woods. For Branson, the creator of everything Virgin — from airlines to trains to megastores — there have been few consequences in his life. When he was 20, his mom bailed him out of an ill-considered tax scheme at his first record store. As a billionaire, he has been plucked out of deserts and oceans by governmental rescue units while trying to fly balloons around the world. More recently, his multiple Virgin enterprises have been rescued by the British government from pandemic-related downturns. He’s even enjoyed some breaks here in the Land of Enchantment, where Spaceport America was built with the assistance of tens of millions of dollars in tax credits and subsidies.

Not all of Branson’s businesses have flourished — frenemy Stephen Colbert will remark later as host of the Virgin livestream that people are daring to go into space with “a man who lost a fortune on sugar water,” a.k.a. Virgin Cola. For years, Virgin Galactic, the name of Branson’s space outfit, looked like another loser. Flights promising to deliver affluent humans into space for four minutes had been delayed for more than a decade, years that included the death of a pilot flying one of Branson’s experimental planes.

But that changes today. The world is entering phase two of space travel: the profit boost. Everything is different. Walter Cronkite has been replaced by Colbert. And there’s Khalid, who will perform for twice as long as Branson will be in space. We are at an aeronautical Super Bowl, the game matters less than the spectacle.

Any doubt we have entered the space infotainment era ends as soon as we disembark. VIPs and reporters are shuttled into separate mini-hangers with the admonition that no plastic will be allowed, an odd environmental concession for a day predicated on the burning of rocket fuel. Still, there isn’t much time to contemplate this odd restriction. While the summer sun is still in deep REM, a DJ is pumping out Peter Frampton and then Men Without Hats’ “The Safety Dance.” And then the Fixx. We are not saved by zero.

“Are we going to have to listen to this for the next nine hours,” groused a crabby old reporter. “I have to work.” He slams some Virgin-provided avocado toast on the table and collagen-infused water that tastes like the aforementioned banished plastic.

The music pauses, and the DJ speaks in his loudest voice: “We want to thank our good friends at Under Armour and Land Rover for outfitting our crew, we couldn’t do it without you.”

It is maybe 6 a.m. Right after this a video shows on multiple big screens the 70-year-old Branson arriving at Spaceport America on his bike, escorted by two white Land Rovers with their lights flashing. The messaging isn’t clear: Branson is an eco-friendly bike rider, but then why does he need to be escorted by two SUVs getting 12 miles per gallon? The answer is actually simple: It is a fucking product placement.

The video continues, and Branson hands his helmet and gloves to a lackey and then is met by the rest of his crew, who are already in their flight suits. Some wonder if Branson is tardy because Elon Musk showed up at his New Mexico hacienda at 3 a.m. to wish him well, and that’s the impression a Virgin Galactic commentator leaves when she mentions that Branson basically rode his bike to his spacecraft. It’s not until later in the day that a sharp reporter — not me, I was looking for some Pedialyte so I wouldn’t stroke out from the 96-degree heat — noticed that the New Mexico light and the time of Branson’s arrival did not match up. Later, Virgin Galactic copped to a “miscommunication,” and we learn the bike ride was actually filmed earlier in the week.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise. Richard Branson was a showman long before he became an astronaut.

Richard Branson waves to school children in New Mexico while heading, as one does, to his private space flight.

WELCOME TO SPACE 2021, where all our hopes and dreams have been privatized. Back in the 1960s, JFK pledged the country’s resources and greatest minds to reaching the moon by the end of the decade. Sure, it was a pissing match with the Cold War Russians, but it was sold as a nation coming together for a greater good.

That is not today. Branson has been pursuing space travel for profit — currently rides cost $250,000­ — for nearly two decades. Today’s flight marks the national transition from space exploration as a pursuit of collective good to one replaced by personal hedonism. This fits perfectly with the ethos of post-Trump America. In 21st-century space research, there has long been a strong ethos of “group work is bad, individual genius is the best.” (Ayn Rand was not available to comment on the morality of Branson’s state-funded infrastructure.)

Still, there is one thing the classic space race and billionaire space race have in common: It is a cold war. This time it’s not between two nations but pits Branson against Amazon emperor Jeff Bezos. The stakes are mind-numbingly low — Branson’s flight is somewhat shorter and Bezos’ rocket takes you slightly higher, but the rewards are equally lucrative; more than 600 patricians have made a down payment toward a $250,000 Virgin Galactic flight, and 60 of them are here to watch today.

A billionaire catfight was inevitable. In June, Bezos announced he was going up on July 20th on the first manned flight of his spaceship, humbly named the Blue Shepherd. Days later, Branson moved up his fall launch to Sunday. He swore it had nothing to do with beating Bezos and absolutely no one believed him, not even his cute towheaded grandchildren.

Many grumbled about the money spent and attention being diverted from the rapidly inflamed Earth. Activists like Greta Thunberg wondered why we needed to burn more fuel into the atmosphere as the Earth went from broil to deep fry. Branson has his own climate-change foundation, and I asked him about the criticism. He defended his space efforts by citing how satellites launched by Virgin Orbit work to mitigate world hunger. “Satellites are essential for food distribution; without them, you wouldn’t get proper food distribution. We use our satellites to monitor crops, and they are essential for stopping illegal fishing,” Branson tells me. “The list goes on. I think that through our space programs, our accomplishments far outweigh any environmental cost.”

Then he added a whopper: “The cost of somebody flying to the Spaceport and back to the U.K. would be the equivalent cost of us putting them into space and enabling them to become astronauts. It is a relatively small footprint.”

While eco experts debate the legitimacy of that statement, they all agree the climate footprint of Spaceport America is much greater than the actual flight, from the gas-guzzling Range Rovers to the energy required to maintain Branson’s spaceships.

And there are other issues besides the world being on fire. Civilization may or may not be recuperating from a modern plague, and income disparity is the vernacular of our time. I have seen “Eat the Rich” graffiti in both Davos and Tulsa. In a startling display of national unity, both blue and red America’s opinion has been running against someone like Bezos — whose Amazon empire pays virtually zero federal income taxes — and his ability to give the undertaxed one percent a touch of space for roughly the cost of your parents’ life savings. 

Branson and Bezos have, as the PR types like to say, an optics problem. (And perhaps a morality one, but anyway … ) But the Brit has come up with an ingenious diversionary gambit: He is using children as a metaphorical human shield. “I’m talking about giving hope to someone like me, a dyslexic 15-year-old, that dreams are possible,” Branson tells me the next day. He even announces that Virgin Galactic will give away two tickets into space in a lottery, not unlike the search for golden tickets in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Any lingering doubts that we have moved from The Right Stuff to some dark Roald Dahl material evaporates when Branson says later, “I’ll be Willy Wonka and give everyone a tour of Spaceport America, and I’ll hide plenty of chocolate.”

Not everyone was buying it, and some came up with their own sound bites: “Congratulations random Bond villain,” said one Twitterer, while a British commentator on a BBC news site asked, “Can you make your Virgin train toilets work first?”

EVERYONE KNOWS A STRAW-HAIRED VILLAIN’s space lair is going to be cool, and Branson’s digs do not disappoint. The day before his flight, I received a tour of Space America’s facilities. Unlike your standard rocket and booster, Virgin Galactic operates under a different dynamic: Its space pod — named Unity, by Stephen Hawking — can carry up to six passengers and two pilots, is not self-propelled, and is taken up to 50,000 feet by Eve, a double-fuselage mother jet that’s named after Branson’s own mother. Unity is then dropped and given one gigantic surge of power. The craft hits Mach 3, soars upward, and floats at 50 miles high, allowing the crew to frolic weightless for about the length of the remastered version of “Wonderwall” before the craft glides back to the runway.

The day before the flight, Eve sat peacefully in a giant hanger taking up half a football field. “We built it big with the hope we can add more,” says a Virgin Galactic exec. It’s 14 hours before takeoff and there’s just one worker on the plane, a youngish man in a backwards baseball cap looking distressingly casual as he pounds away.

Earthbound spectators gather to watch a Virgin Galactic space plane whisk some very wealthy people into space.

Customers will come into the complex on the other side and receive the space pitch before they see the merchandise. There’s a walkway connecting both sides of the hangar with a giant window strategically placed looking down on Eve. That’s for the prospective buyers. “We purposely start them on this side and then walk them across, and they always stop at the window,” says the executive. “We have to drag them out of there.”

Virgin Galactic hopes they can get patrons in and up on a flight in two or three days, a.k.a. two days less than I had to spend doing survival training for a Navy flight.

Another Galactic official gives us a look at the iconic final walk astronauts have been taking since the beginning of a space flight. “There’s a lot of design aesthetic that’s built into this, to make sure that you’ve got your friends and your family over on the sides,” says Julia Hunter. “This is where the heroes walk out to their vehicles. It is a very, very important moment.”

This isn’t the first time folks paying $250,000 to go for a joyride are labeled heroes by Virgin Galactic. Whatever. There’s actually nothing particularly dramatic about the walkout space. Tomorrow, Branson and the five others will walk down the ramp, and to the left is a lounge reminiscent of an upscale Marriott lobby. On the right is a coffee spot where Hunter says the Virgin Galactic group bonds and spitballs ideas.

It’s not exactly Apollo 11-dramatic, but they do ride to the space plane in specially designed Land Rovers. This John Glenn did not do.

FINALLY, IT IS SHOWTIME. The crew of four men and two women make their way to their Land Rovers in their Under Armour flight suits that give off a Space 1999 vibe. The VIPs clap and rattle their jewelry. Two miles down the runway, the crew are loaded into their seats. The Eve rumbles down the runway looking as graceful as a prehistoric bird in The Flintstones. No matter, it does its job. Off they go, climbing 30,000 feet. “They’re now higher than most commercial airliners,” says an announcer. 40,000. 50,000. Mission Control begins a final countdown toward Unity being released.

“We are armed for release. Ten seconds, 5-4-3-2-1. Release, release, release! Clean release ignition. Good rocket motor burn. There’s Mach 1 trimming now. Trim complete, Unity is pointed directly up and heading to space; things are looking great; we are 25 seconds into the burn, now approaching Mach 2 [in] 30 seconds. Mach 2, everything’s looking really good and stable. 40 seconds, 45 seconds, 50 seconds; approaching Mach 3. There’s Mach 3 and 60 seconds, and that is a full duration burn. Folks we are headed to space … ”

The highest point of Branson’s rocket plane is 279,000 feet and is called the apogee for reasons profoundly uninteresting. What is slightly more interesting is that many space nerds insist space doesn’t start until more than 60 miles high, suggesting the Unity doesn’t quite get there. At the apogee, the Unity hovers for four minutes, and that’s when Branson and the other crew members get out of their seats and flit about and look down on this big blue marble. Most of the crowd is mesmerized and staring at footage coming from the craft. Alas, the whole flight is a glitch fest, and the feed and sound garbled in and out. Except for some patchy glimpses, the feed doesn’t return to a modicum of clarity until the Unity is making a graceful glide back toward Spaceport. We learn later that this is what Branson’s said to the young:

Almost simultaneously, Virgin Galactic releases information about their contest that will choose two members of the hoi polloi to join the fat cats on an upcoming flight. Meanwhile, Branson and the rest of the crew arrive in their Land Rovers back at Mission Control. Branson is nearly tackled by his two grandchildren, and the rest of the crew is hugged by family and lovers. It’s a scene not unlike what I remember of Navy fly-ins after my dad’s squadron returned from a six-month deployment. Branson and his colleagues have been gone for a little over two hours.

In the burning sun, Branson and his crew are given their astronaut badges as the rich and ready whoop and holler. Getting labeled an “astronaut” is part of the marketing charm but seems more than a little dubious. Calling anyone who spends 240 seconds in space an astronaut cheapens the sacrifices of everyone from Neil Armstrong to Sally Ride. But no matter, Branson is on an adrenaline high. He chatters excitedly, some of the words making sense.

Astronaut Sirisha Blanda celebrates with Branson following their flight.

He drops an unintended truth bomb: “Well, I’ve done some ridiculous things in my lifetime, but this was really, really, really ridiculous.”

Eventually, Branson puts his grandchildren down and does one of his trademark, grandly dated gestures from his bad-boy days. He surprises crew member Sirisha Bandla and lifts her up until she is sitting on his shoulders. Champagne sprays, and ecstasy is in the air.

After a brief meet-and-greet with some grade-school kids from nearby impoverished Las Cruces, Branson sets out on the most grueling part of his day: He does three hours of television interviews in full flight suit as the temperature flirts with triple digits. Most of the television crews are enthralled, their questions limited to “what was it like,” and some even pose for selfies with Branson afterward. Back at the Virgin Galactic home office, high-fives are shared as news filters in that more than 12 million viewers watched the discombobulated livestream.

The next morning, I talked to Branson, and he sounded exhausted but content. He had rationalized going up in space as a chance to do a customer checklist on the experience. “It really could not have gone better,” Branson tells me. I have one question left. Sure, he had given kids inspirational words, but did he have any specific advice for an 11-year-old boy or girl who wanted to see the stars up close. First, he urged them to register for the lottery, which in fact could be entered for a small donation to a worthy cause. (A smaller font suggested you could enter for free.)

“They can ask their granddad or dad to buy an amazing ticket, and you’ll have a chance to go to space.” But what about specific advice if you’re not one of Wonka’s special guests? Branson pauses for a second and then responds cheerfully.

“Well, if that doesn’t work out, then hopefully by the time you are in your thirties or forties, you may have made a bit of money and are able to afford to go into space.”

In This Article: Elon Musk, jeff bezos, outer space, Richard Branson, Stephen Colbert

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Crowd watches Branson's mission from spaceport

AP Archive 19 July, 2021 - 07:02am

Richard Branson's launch changes the way we look at space | TheHill

The Hill 19 July, 2021 - 07:02am

Richard Branson is betting that we’ll think of Virgin Galactic when we hear Khalid’s “New Normal” the next time we find ourselves with a couple hundred thousand dollars to take a 90-minute joy ride to just beyond the edge of space for a few moments of weightlessness and a unique look at the curvature of the Earth from about 50 miles off the terra firma. That’s now possible for a very few, but that’s how such markets get started to the benefit of all of us eventually.

The airline marketing analogy is particularly apt because what we are witnessing is the opening of a new commercial market and that market is access to space. Branson’s SpaceShip Two flight on Sunday morning was the very first privately financed human spaceflight on a spacecraft built by private investors exclusively to fly people to space who are paying for the experience. All 562 people who have been to space previously were aboard government-sponsored spacecraft on public missions financed by taxpayers. The first commercial airline was founded a little more than a hundred years ago on the same premise to open a new market. But Branson is also betting that his company will last longer than the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line — the first scheduled airline — which folded four months after its first commercial flight. It’s not always an advantage to be the market leader, but the commercial airline transportation market has subsequently flourished even though that original market leader did not. It’s also a new market reality that consumer demand determines winners and losers. For space access, that is now a reality that starts.

This event is not just another example of new capital market formation for commercial service. SpaceShip Two is also an important technology development that can be traced back to the post-World War II-era X-1 aircraft that was the first to break the sound barrier at Mach 1 speed. Fast forward to 2004, when SpaceShip One won the Ansari X-Prize competition to be the first privately developed machine to carry a human to space. Virgin Galactic bought the design from the prize winners and evolved it to a larger vehicle to carry passengers. But the engineering principles and design concept are derived from the prize-winning vehicle. The airframe takes off from a runway, attached to a ferry aircraft that releases it at altitude to fire off at hypersonic speed, piloted to an exo-atmospheric, suborbital position in space. This is a developed technology to achieve a feat that’s been done before, but until now it has required a rocket launch from a pad to do so. Virgin Galactic plans to repeat SpaceShip Two’s accomplishment as often as it can attract customers to pay for the privilege. So far, hundreds have lined up for the opportunity, and that’s a reasonable market test.

The game-changing technology breakthrough is yet to come. A vehicle taking off from any commercial runway headed directly to space with a single propulsion stage would be a huge development. It’s not there yet, but SpaceShip Two just brought us a step closer. And if costs decline the same way technology development patterns often do, commercial access to space could be as accessible as commercial airline destinations around the globe.  

A Russian, Yuri Gagarin, was the first human to fly to space 60 years ago. Alan Shepard was the first American to do the same, a month after Gagarin.  They are the early heroes in the U.S.-Soviet “Space Race” that ultimately culminated less than a decade later when the U.S. got to the Moon first. Along the way, the “race” was the catalyst for more space exploration, pursuit of scientific inquiry, technology-development accelerators and global economic expansion. Some may cynically think that Gagarin and Shepard took outlandish risks and taxpayers shelled out a fortune so that others could someday have the same experience for fun and profit once it got safer. That’s one way to look at it. 

At another level, it is the human desire to explore, to discover and to have new experiences that has been the catalyst for all advances since the dawn of human history. Each advance came about because entrepreneurs developed, cultivated and promoted demand for existing capabilities they exploited. Some critics have argued that the SpaceShip Two achievement could never have been done by NASA. That’s quite true: If NASA had developed a $1 billion light spacecraft to ferry six people to space in standard aircraft flight suits and no helmets for the sole purpose of a thrilling experience, a congressional inquiry would have been launched the day after the first flight. Public projects are not designed for such purposes. These are derivative applications of capabilities designed for entirely separate reasons. 

But that is how CT-scanners came to have been designed by a recording company that produced the Beatles’ first album, and steel-belted radials resulted from scientists imagining new applications for a polymer called Kevlar that never did get used for tires, or the heart pump that was developed by a medical technologist who miniaturized a Space Shuttle fluid mechanical device. These were not the purposes of the publicly financed invention, development or service, but it surely made them possible and might not have happened but for the public sector innovations they were derived from.

Virgin Galactic’s YouTube broadcast on Sunday had the feel of an Emeril Lagasse infomercial to sell some new revolutionary kitchen product or an addition to the spice rack. But the event also made access to space seem like something that maybe any of us could experience someday not too far off. And if that happens, it will be a collateral benefit because, as taxpayers, we yielded to the desire to learn more about the world we live in, the solar system we are part of, and the universe we have barely begun to explore.  

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Zurawik: No need to gush over rich guys & their space joy rides

Boston Herald 19 July, 2021 - 07:02am

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I was already tired of the gee-whiz coverage of Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos going into space before Branson actually went there Sunday (or, went somewhere close, depending on your definition of space).

But much of the coverage since has absolutely worn me out with its treatment of Branson as a heroic figure and his joy ride some 50 miles above earth as if it was a monumental moment in human exploration and consciousness.

“Really, it’s a moment that gives you goose bumps,” Rachel Crane, CNN innovation correspondent said Sunday morning on the channel shortly after Branson’s craft landed. “As a reporter, we all have those moments that we put in the memory book forever, that we know we’re never going to forget, we’re going to hold onto the rest of our lives. I have got to tell you, this is one of those for me.”

Obviously, Crane is free to enshrine whatever memories she wants in her memory book, but I don’t think I will be slotting Branson’s marketing moment on Sunday alongside, say, the U.S. landing on the moon in 1969, in mine.

Others had problems with some of CNN’s coverage as well.

“Covering Richard Branson’s flight, CNN’s Rachel Crane just reported that historically these big technological innovations happen because of rich people. Hmm. NASA, the Internet, mapping the human genome?” Steven Waldman, co-founder and president of Report for America, wrote on Twitter.

Alex Heard, editorial director of Outside magazine, tweeted that “almost everything” Crane said in her reports “sounds like Virgin Galactic wrote it for her.”

Virgin Galactic is the spaceflight company founded by Branson. It plans to provide suborbital flights like the one Branson took Sunday to those customers with the means to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to ride on this rich guy’s Space Mountain.

“We are at the vanguard of a new industry determined to pioneer twenty-first century spacecraft, which will open space to everybody — and change the world for good,” is the way a mission statement from Branson atop Virgin Galactic’s homepage puts it.

God save us from rich guys like Branson and Mark Zuckerberg promising their latest moneymaking technological venture is going to change the world for good. And we are in for more talk of how these efforts to privatize and colonize space are a good thing for all of us when Bezos takes a crew into suborbital space on July 20. While Branson’s flight went some 50 miles above the earth’s surface, which is considered space by several agencies in the U.S., Bezos plans to travel at least 62 miles above the surface, which is the true definition of space, according to several international bodies like Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. I am not sure I care about the distinction or the hyped rivalry between these two rich boys with their toys.

Too much of the coverage of Branson and Bezos so far has promoted the idea that the rich will save us. From the characterization of Branson as some kind of heroic figure to the notion that rich men have led the way in technology that makes life better for all of us, that idea permeated cable TV coverage of the Virgin Galactic flight, especially on CNN.

The solutions to our problems are not going to be found in suborbital space or in blindly celebrating the rich. They will more likely be found in working together instead of warring with one another here on earth.

Jeff Bezos

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