Two billionaires in the big race for the business of taking tourists into space

Britain's Richard Branson and America's Jeff Bezos are vying to be the first to make a suborbital flight
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will fly with 82-year-old Wally Funk, one of 13 women who in 1959 passed the same tests that NASA's Mercury astronauts underwent. But Funk did not reach space

PHOTO/Blue Origin  -   Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will fly with 82-year-old Wally Funk, one of 13 women who in 1959 passed the same tests that NASA's Mercury astronauts underwent. But Funk did not reach space

The well-known entrepreneurs, billionaires and business tycoons Richard Branson -creator of the Virgin empire- and Jeff Bezos -founder of the giant Amazon- are vying for the final victory in the race to open the doors of suborbital space travel to international tourism.

This is the latest addition to an unacknowledged competition between the United States and China to take astronauts to the moon and another between the same powers to lead the exploration of Mars. The third rivalry in the space field is taking place between two US-based companies, both of which aspire to captain a global market that, in principle, will be for a privileged few. But over a few years, studies indicate that it will earn its promoters many billions of euros.

It is a commercial scramble to take tourists of any nationality to the edge of space and back to Earth without orbiting it, giving way to a tourism activity that has been stalled for nearly two decades. The reason for the delay is that the US federal administrations require that projects proposed by the private sector meet the necessary safety conditions to make them a reality.

La tripulación que viajará el 11 de julio en el SpaceShipTwo. En los extremos, Dave Mackay y Michael Masucci, pilotos; Colin Bennett, ingeniero de operaciones en cabina; Beth Moses, instructora jefe de astronautas; Richard Branson, presidente del Grupo Virgin; y Sirisha Bandla, vicepresidenta de asuntos gubernamentales
PHOTO/Virgin Galactic - The crew that will travel on SpaceShipTwo on 11 July. At the ends, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, pilots; Colin Bennett, cabin operations engineer; Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor; Richard Branson, Virgin Group chairman; and Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs.

The leading position is occupied by the eccentric entrepreneur of the Virgin Group, 70-year-old British entrepreneur Richard Branson, with his original flying machine SpaceShipTwo. Second in line is Amazon's influential owner Jeff Bezos, 57, with his New Shepard spacecraft. Warming up much further back and absent from the fray is Elon Musk - who has just turned 50 - with his Starship project.

The competition will take place in a single geographical location, but on several circuits. The machines will set off to the edge of space from the United States and return to their various departure bases. Branson will take off from Spaceport America in the state of New Mexico. He has previously flown with varying success, most recently manned on 22 May. Jeff Bezos' spacecraft from West Texas, having made 14 successful flights, the last one on 14 April with a crew.

La astronave SpaceShipTwo se desprende de su avión nodriza WhiteKnightTwo a unos 15 kilómetros de altura. Su propulsión cohete le permite alcanzar en torno a los 80 kilómetros de altura, donde sus pasajeros pueden sentir los efectos de la micro gravedad
PHOTO/Virgin Galactic - The SpaceShipTwo spacecraft detaches from its WhiteKnightTwo mother plane at an altitude of about 15 kilometres. Its rocket propulsion allows it to reach an altitude of around 80 kilometres, where its passengers can feel the effects of microgravity.
To feel the weightlessness and marvel at the visual spectacle

Elon Musk maintains his Starship project at his Boca Raton facility, also in the state of Texas. But he is in no hurry to carry out his first manned suborbital round-trip trip for tourism purposes. He is dedicated to cashing in on his lucrative business dealings with NASA, Joe Biden's Department of Defence - before Donald Trump and Barack Obama - and putting commercial and scientific satellites into orbit.

British visionary and all-rounder Richard Branson founded his company Virgin Galactic in 2004 to offer suborbital spaceflight. After more than 15 years of continuous effort and testing, he now has a dual composite propulsion system in place. A mother plane called WhiteKnightTwo takes off and reaches an altitude of just over 15 kilometres, from where it releases the lighter SpaceShipTwo, capable of reaching a ceiling of about 90 kilometres. Once in its vicinity, its passengers can feel the effects of micro-gravity and observe a unique panorama of the Blue Planet and the space around them.

Although Branson had announced that he would travel into space on the fourth manned test flight, he has brought it forward. His change of plans is due to his intention to pull ahead of his rival, Jeff Bezos, whose company Blue Origin had announced on 5 May that the first manned suborbital flight of his New Shepard spacecraft would take place on 20 July.

El multimillonario fundador de Amazon, Jeff Bezos, viajará acompañado de su hermano Mark, un desconocido que ha pagado casi 30 millones por el billete y una veterana piloto de 82 años
PHOTO/Blue Origin - Billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will travel with his brother Mark, a stranger who paid nearly $30 million for the ticket, and an 82-year-old veteran pilot.

In the end, the Briton will set off in his panoramic SpaceShipTwo spacecraft - christened Unity 22 - which will take off on 11 July from Spaceport America, which Virgin Galactic has built in the New Mexico desert, 72 kilometres north of the city of Las Cruces. The cost of the facilities has exceeded 200 million dollars and the construction of the infrastructures lasted from April 2006 to August 2019.

At the controls of Unity 22 will be test pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, who a few weeks ago reached nearly 90 kilometres above sea level with the same spacecraft, which the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the US Air Force consider to be the lower limit of outer space. However, the International Astronautical Federation places such a limit at the 100-kilometre line, reasoned and defined decades ago by physicist Theodore von Karman. 

La cabina de pasaje del SpaceShipTwo de Richard Branson está repleta de ojos de buey, para que los turistas puedan disfrutar de la panorámica de la Tierra y del cosmos. También puede alojar cargas para su evaluación en órbita
PHOTO/Virgin Galactic - The passenger cabin of Richard Branson's SpaceShipTwo is replete with portholes, so tourists can enjoy the panoramic view of Earth and the cosmos. It can also accommodate cargo for evaluation in orbit.
Countdown to suborbital tourism begins

The passenger cabin will be occupied by Richard Branson, who will be joined by three Virgin Galactic executives: chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, chief cabin operations engineer Colin Bennett and vice president of government affairs and research operations Sirisha Bandla. Their job will be to identify improvements "to make flying more enjoyable, unforgettable and inspiring for the company's future customers," says Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier.

Branson wants to offer a "unique experience" to those who rely on his model of space travel to see the Earth and the cosmos. But to become a space tourist and wear a space tourist badge, you need a splendid bank account, a medical examination and a few hours of preparation to get used to weightlessness, which is only available to a tiny fraction of the tourists who visit Spain. 

If the flight is successful, Virgin Galactic plans to launch two more missions into space in 2021, one of them for the Italian Air Force. Following maintenance checks on the WhiteKnightTwo mother plane and the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, manned flights to carry tourists to the edge of space will begin in 2022.

A semejanza del SpaceShipTwo de Richard Branson, la cápsula New Shepard de Jeff Bezos está acolchada para facilitar los movimientos en ingravidez y rodeada de ventanas para permitir a los turistas unos momentos únicos en su vida
PHOTO/Blue Origin - Like Richard Branson's SpaceShipTwo, Jeff Bezos' New Shepard capsule is padded for ease of movement in weightlessness and surrounded by windows to allow tourists a once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Competitor company Blue Origin, owned by Amazon's billionaire owner Jeff Bezos, announced on 7 June that its founder and his brother Mark would occupy two of the four seats on the New Shepard capsule mission, scheduled for 20 July, which will fly above 100km altitude. In the weeks that have followed, the other two crew members have been revealed.

The third will be the unknown winner of the public auction for a place on 12 June, in which 7,600 people from more than 150 countries participated. Identified so far as bidder 107, he bid $28 million, to which he must add a 6% commission for the auction house. In total, the trip will bring him close to $29.7 million.

La cápsula New Shepard viaja en la parte superior de un lanzador Blue Origin, que se separa, supera los 100 kilómetros de altura y regresa a tierra con paracaídas. El lanzador describe otra trayectoria y aterriza en vertical
PHOTO/Blue Origin - The New Shepard capsule rides on top of a Blue Origin launcher, which separates, climbs to an altitude of over 100 kilometres and returns to earth with a parachute. The launcher describes a different trajectory and lands vertically.

To differentiate itself from the Virgin Galactic mission, Blue Origin announced on 1 July that an 82-year-old female pilot would be the fourth occupant. She is Wally Funk, one of 13 women who in 1959 passed the same tests that NASA's Mercury astronauts underwent. It was a private initiative with official support, but none of the so-called Mercury 13 had the chance to fly into space in the Mercury capsules of the 1960s. Wally Funk will fulfil her dream six decades later thanks to Jeff Bezos.