Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed space flight on Sunday (US time) grabbed the media spotlight in the past week, but rival commercial space tourism enterprise Blue Origin will have bragging rights of its own next week.
With the human-headline, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, on board Virgin Galactic’s fourth spaceflight last weekend, hundreds-of-thousands of people tuned in to view the live telecast of the rocket-powered VSS Unity launching into space, carrying the billionaire and five other crew.
VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve. The vehicle reached space, at an altitude of 53.5 miles, before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.
The successful flight was keenly watched on by Virgin Galactic’s Accredited Space Agent partners around the world, many of whom are affiliated with the Virtuoso luxury travel network, a handful of which are in Australia and New Zealand. Some of those local Space Agents told LATTE they were thrilled with the moment, with one even admitting to having a tear in the eye on the occasion.
Virtuoso Chairman Matthew Upchurch, a “Founder Astronaut” (one of the first in line to nab a seat to space once commercial spaceflights begin), was pictured at Spaceport America in New Mexico with Branson.
Blue Origin to propel youngest and oldest astronauts into space
Launching on 20 July, Blue Origin’s space flight will be the 16th time that New Shepard has flown into space. The upcoming flight will be the first with astronauts on board.
Joining fellow billionaire and Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos (and his brother Mark) on Blue Origin’s maiden commercial flight next week, will be Oliver Daemen, the first paying customer on board New Shepard.
At just 18 years of age, Daemen will be the youngest person ever to travel into space.
Revealed by Blue Origin on Thursday [15 July 2021], the Dutchman was chosen as the last person aboard next Tuesday’s flight after the anonymous auction winner – who forked out a whopping $28 million for the seat – chose to fly on a future date “due to scheduling conflicts”.
That hefty winning bid is being donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, which will donate US$1 million to 19 non-profit organisations, all of which are working to support the future of living and working in space.
“We thank the auction winner for their generous support of Club for the Future and are honoured to welcome Oliver to fly with us on New Shepard,” said Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin.
“This marks the beginning of commercial operations for New Shepard, and Oliver represents a new generation of people who will help us build a road to space,” Smith said.
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Daemen graduated from high school in 2020 and took a gap year before continuing his studies to obtain his private pilot’s license. This September, he will attend the University of Utrecht to study physics and innovation management.
Also on the space flight from Blue Origin’s remote base in West Texas will be 82-year-old Wally Funk. She will become the oldest person in space, surpassing the current age-record holder, John Glenn, who was 77 when he reached space in 1998.
Funk was the youngest graduate of the Woman in Space Program in the 1960s but never made it into orbit. She is travelling on New Shepard as a guest of Jeff Bezos.
Virgin Galactic shares plummet
Meanwhile, the publicly listed Virgin Galactic’s share price slumped this week after the company revealed plans to sell up to US$500 million of stock. Virgin Galactic’s share price was on a high last week, rising by around 9% on Monday morning, but plummeted 14% after the company unveiled plans to sell off shares to raise funds, The Guardian reported.
Virgin Galactic said it intended to use the proceeds of the sale “for general corporate purposes, including working capital, general and administrative matters and capital expenditures for its manufacturing capabilities, development of its spaceship fleet and other infrastructure improvements,” the outlet reported.