The billionaire space race is about to be flagged off with Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson ready to soar into the blue on board the first fully crewed flight of his SpaceShipTwo aircraft, Unity 22, on Sunday. Branson, 70, along with three crewmates and two pilots will embark on a brief, but historic, suborbital mission, making him the first billionaire space entrepreneur to blast out of the atmosphere.
His fellow passengers will include Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, Virgin Galactic lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, the Indian-origin vice president of government affairs and research operations at the company. VSS Unity will be piloted by Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci. “Congratulations to all those who created such a beautiful space,” Branson said from space. Branson flew aboard his Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane, along with three company employees to the edge of space on Sunday a little after 10.30 a.m. ET (8 p.m. India time). Branson’s long-awaited trip to space would allow him to beat Amazon founder Jeff Bezos by nine days; the latter is set to fly on his company Blue Origin’s spacecraft on July 20, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. Unity 22’s flight to the edge of space will be live-streamed.