The Washington Post
A few months after another successful test flight over the Mojave Desert, billionaire Richard Branson says his space company, Virgin Galactic, might be out among the stars in a matter of weeks.
"We should be in space within weeks, not months," Branson told CNBC on Tuesday. "And then we will be in space with myself in months and not years."
The 67-year-old chief executive of Virgin, along with Amazonís Jeff Bezos and Teslaís Elon Musk, is determined to bring tourists to space, sooner rather than later. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.) Bezos has said his space company, Blue Origin, is also expecting to pilot test flights by the end of 2018. In September, Musk announced his SpaceX company had sold its first ticket for a trip around the moon. Last year, Bank of America Merrill Lynch predicted the space sector would be worth $2.7 trillion by 2045.
Branson has previously said he thinks Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin would both "have a person in space roundabout the same time." But he said they "are not in a race to get to space. . . . All that matters in the end is that everybody is safe and well."
To prepare for his maiden voyage, Branson said, heís been training rigorously: cycling, playing tennis and spending time in a centrifuge to acquaint his body with the gravitational forces of space.
Currently, some 700 people are on Virgin Galacticís waiting list (to the tune of $250,000 a ticket) for the companyís first commercial flights, whenever they might be. Bransonís other space company, Virgin Orbit, has a contract with the Pentagon to launch "technology demonstration satellites," which it is aiming to do by 2019.
Bransonís quest for space travel started in 2004, when he won the rights to spacecraft technology of Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft who funded a venture that flew a vehicle past the 100-kilometer (about 62 mile) edge of space three times. But Bransonís efforts havenít been without extreme cost. In 2014, an early version of a Virgin Galactic spacecraft pulled apart and crashed during a test flight over the Mojave Desert, killing a co-pilot, Michael Alsbury.
Since then, Virgin Galactic has had several successful test flights, with its space planes safely reaching Mach 2, which is about twice the speed of sound. Branson hopes to have a space craft that can carry six passengers and two pilots above Earth.