We’re Witnessing The World’s Most Expensive…

Yesterday, July 11, billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic (and Virgin Atlantic, and Virgin Records, etc.) traveled on his VSS Unity…

…Making him the first billionarie founder of a space company to actually travel into space aboard a vehicle he helped fund.

On July 20, billionaire Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and the world’s richest man, will travel on his Blue Origin New Shepard rocket’s first passenger flight…

…Making him the second billionaire founder of space company to actually travel into space aboard a vehicle he helped fund.

Welcome to the world’s most expensive…

According to the Virgin Galactic website, Branson’s goal is to make the world a better place:

According to the Blue Origin website, Bezos’ goal is to make the world a better place:

And space travel certainly will make Branson and Bezos’ world a better place.

Cost of a reserved seat on Virgin Galactic:  $250,000, with more than 600 reservations at last count.

Cost of a reserved seat on Blue Origin:  To be announced after Bezos’ trip.

While you’re waiting for that announcement, you can – no surprise here – spend some money at Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin online shop:

And talk about making the world a better place – this new industry has given Branson and Bezos unlimited photo opportunities to light up our world:

In addition to making the world a better place, the two billionaire’s approach to space travel has an important similarity:

Their spacecraft are designed to come apart.

According to a July 9 CNN article,

“[Branson’s] VSS Unity will be affixed to a massive mothership, called WhiteKnightTwo, that looks like two sleek jets attached at the tip of their wings:

“The mothership takes about 45 minutes to cruise along and slowly climb with VSS Unity to about 50,000 feet.  Then, when the pilots give the go-ahead, VSS Unity drops from between WhiteKnightTwo’s two fuselages and fires up its rocket engine, swooping directly upward and roaring past the speed of sound.”

VSS Unity’s flight without the mothership lasts 14-17 minutes.

Bezos’ New Shepard vehicle “is a capsule and rocket system that fires off vertically from a launch pad”:

At some point the capsule separates from the rocket system:

The flight lasts about 10 minutes, and both capsule and rocket system return to Earth.

Another similarity:  Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin already are referring to their prospective clients as “astronauts.”

And another:  Astronauts on both the VSS Unity and New Shepherd will experience weightlessness.

And the most important:  If successful, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin will make billionaires Branson and Bezos just what they needed:

More billions.

I labeled this the “world’s most expensive pissing contest,” and it appears at least a few others share a similar – if less pungent – point of view:

And this, perhaps the most excoriating of all:

This writer’s observations include:

“…this will be the summer of the billionaire space race, as we witness who can burn through more money and public attention in the effort to escape the bonds of Earth’s gravity for, well, a few minutes.”

“…any honest assessment of the billionaire space race shows that it’s less the dawning of a new epoch of universal space travel than the world’s most expensive infomercial for a network of self-dealing billionaires who plan to make a lot more money down here on terra firma.”

“At a time when our earthly inequities could not be more clear, it is obscene to allow moguls to pour their untaxed billions, earned on the backs of precarious workers, into private ventures divorced from everyday concern or accountability.”

You’ll notice that both The New Republic and Los Angeles Times reference Elon Musk (pictured), yet another billionaire spacecraft builder. 

Musk’s SpaceX has already carried 10 astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, and his company’s first private spaceflight is coming up in September for another billionaire who’s purchased a three-day, globe-circling ride.

I haven’t said anything about him, but a few days ago Musk had something to say about Branson and Bezos, in this snarky comment on Twitter:

“There is a big difference between reaching space and reaching orbit.”

A three-way pissing contest!

Musk, at least, is upfront about his intentions.  According to the SpaceX website, a seat on his “Rideshare” program…

…starts “as low as $1M.”

And like Bezos, Musk’s SpaceX has a shop:

During my research for this post, I discovered that humans aren’t the only ones to engage in pissing contests:


“…in scenes akin to a showdown at the OK Corral, the winner of the physical combat almost always turns out to be the lobster that urinated first.  And well after the fight is over, the winner keeps pissing.  By contrast, the loser shuts off his urine valves immediately.”

So, since Branson went into space before either Bezos or Musk, it looks like he gets…

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