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

Related Content

Article image
Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic: why is it stratospherically off schedule?

Biographer Tom Bower claims that the Virgin rocket may never be powerful enough to take people into space. Clearly, building a new kind of space ship is more fiddly than Branson thought

27, Jan, 2014 @1:56 PM

Article image
Space – the final frontier for profit-seekers like Richard Branson | @guardianletters
Letters: Earth no longer has what Rosa Luxemburg called an ‘outside’ – a non-capitalist realm in which new investments can be profitably made. But Branson and other investors such as Elon Musk have an answer to this problem

04, Nov, 2014 @7:44 PM

Article image
In space, nobody can hear Jeff Bezos. So can Richard Branson go too? | Marina Hyde
News that the Amazon overlord is about to jet off has got the Virgin boss clamouring to get there first, says Guardian columnist Marina Hyde

Marina Hyde

11, Jun, 2021 @2:13 PM

Article image
Richard Branson aims to beat Jeff Bezos into space by nine days
Virgin Galactic founder has announced he will take off on board the next test flight on 11 July

Mark Sweney and agencies

02, Jul, 2021 @12:07 PM

Article image
Virgin Galactic to launch space plane with Richard Branson onboard
The billionaire, along with two pilots and three other passengers, will reach 55 miles above Earth for about an hour

Sarah Betancourt and agencies

11, Jul, 2021 @2:47 PM

Article image
Richard Branson flies to edge of space in Virgin Galactic passenger rocket plane
Spaceplane went into sub-orbital flight days ahead of a rival launch by Jeff Bezos

Sarah Betancourt

11, Jul, 2021 @4:34 PM

Article image
Elon Musk v Jeff Bezos: the ridiculous rivalry of the world’s richest men
The wealth of the Tesla boss and would-be space coloniser has overtaken that of his Amazon rival. How does he plan to celebrate? By being as puerile as possible

29, Sep, 2021 @3:11 PM

Article image
Space Titans review – Bezos, Musk and Branson battle to blast their loads
This wildly hagiographic documentary about the billionaires fiddling with their massive rockets will have you cringing all the way into suborbital space

Lucy Mangan

04, Nov, 2021 @9:00 AM

Article image
Of course billionaires like Elon Musk love outer space. The Earth is too small for their egos | Arwa Mahdawi
This week, Musk’s SpaceX will launch the first US astronauts into space in nine years. We’re meant to be inspired, but back on the ground the workers are struggling

Arwa Mahdawi

27, May, 2020 @6:00 AM

Article image
Justin Bieber to blast into space with Virgin Galactic
Freshly enrolled in Richard Branson's space programme, singer tweets he would like to make music video in zero gravity

Guardian music

07, Jun, 2013 @10:36 AM