To obscurity and beyond: did Richard Branson really make it into space?

After his rocket plane reached 53 miles above Earth on Sunday, the founder of Virgin Galactic is now officially an astronaut. But not everyone’s convinced

Name: Richard Branson.

Age: 70.

Appearance: Santa’s evil twin.

Occupation: Magnate.

Owns things, does he? He’s the founder of Virgin Group, with interests in more than 400 operations, including Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Active, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic? A private space travel venture.

Rings a bell. Didn’t he have plans to blast himself into space on his own rocket, or something? Yes.

How’s that all progressing? He went on Sunday.

Did he come back? He did.

Was it a secret mission? Hardly – the launch was hosted by the comedian Stephen Colbert, and musical guest Khalid played a new song.

How come I didn’t hear about it? Possibly because it was the same day as the Euro 2020 final, the Wimbledon men’s final and the usual pandemic news.

I spent most of the afternoon watching drunk, shirtless people throw bottles at each other. Yeah, me too.

How long was Branson in space for? Depending on who you ask, either a matter of minutes or no time at all.

You mean people think he faked the whole thing? It’s more a question of where space starts. Branson’s rival billionaire would-be astronaut, Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, seems to think it’s a bit higher up.

Who’s right? It’s complicated: the Kármán line, the internationally recognised threshold where space is said to begin, is 62 miles above Earth. And Branson’s craft only got to 53 miles.

So he missed? Not necessarily. The US Federal Aviation Administration considers 50 miles to be the edge of space and awards astronaut wings to anyone who gets that far.

Are you saying that Branson did this for a badge? He means to launch a profitable space tourism operation.

And Bezos? The same. He has his own rocket, Blue Origin, which is set to take off in a matter of days. He aims to cross the Kármán line – “so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name”, as the company said in a tweet last week.

How did astronaut Richard Branson* take that? He seemed unruffled. His company claims to have 600 customers lined up – at $250,000 (£180,000) a seat – for the beginning of commercial operations in 2022. And he invited another rival billionaire would-be astronaut, Elon Musk, to his launch party.

Taking rich people to space for fun – this is exactly what the world needs. At least we don’t have to pay them any attention.

Do say: “Space – the final frontier.”

Don’t say: “Actually the final frontier is a bit further on, mate.”

* Accreditation not recognised by all governing bodies.

The GuardianTramp

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