Virgin Galactic has announced that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration cleared the company to take passengers into space.
“Today’s approval by the FAA of our full commercial launch license, in conjunction with the success of our May 22 test flight, give us confidence as we proceed toward our first fully crewed test flight this summer,” Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in a statement on Friday.
Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson is in a race with Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, and fellow billionaire Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, to be the first to take tourists into space.
“Virgin Galactic hasn’t announced when its next spaceflight will be, but there’s speculation the company will try to launch Branson to space before Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos makes his trip to the edge of space on July 20,” the New York Post reported.
Space blog Parabolic Arc reported earlier this month that “Branson’s flight would take place about two weeks before Bezos, his brother Mark and the winner of an online auction are scheduled to board Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle for a suborbital flight on July 20. It will be the first crewed flight of New Shepard, which has flown 15 times with no one aboard.”
Earlier this month, a person with very deep pockets won an auction to join Bezos and others on a trip to space.
“The Amazon founder’s rocket company, Blue Origin, did not disclose the winner’s name following the live online auction,” WDSU-TV reported. “The identity will be revealed in a couple weeks — closer to the brief up-and-down flight from West Texas on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moon landing.”
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket has done 15 test flights since 2015, all successful. “The completely automated capsule can carry up to six passengers, each with their own big window. Blue Origin’s top sales director, Ariane Cornell, said following the auction that the fourth and final seat on the debut crew flight will be announced soon,” the station reported.
More than 7,500 people from nearly 160 countries registered to bid on the flight, according to Blue Origin. But just 20 bidders were included in Saturday’s final auction.
“The winning bid amount will be donated to Blue Origin’s foundation, Club for the Future, whose mission is to inspire future generations to pursue careers in STEM and to help invent the future of life in space,” said the Blue Origin website.
Meanwhile, a Japanese billionaire who has already booked a seat on the first private flight to the moon said in March he’s willing to bring eight companions along — and he’ll pay their way.
Yusaku Maezawa put out an open call for people who want to join him on the SpaceX rocket, which is set to head to the moon in 2023.
“Are you satisfied with what you’re doing right now? By going to space could you do something that’s even better, even bigger? If that sounds like you, please join me,” Maezawa said in a video detailing his plans. “I will pay for the entire journey. I have bought all the seats so it will be a private ride.”
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