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Elon Musk to fly to the edge of space with Virgin Galactic

Elon Musk has booked a seat with Virgin Galactic for a ride to the edge of space.

The revelation came via the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, July 11, the day that Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson participated in the company’s first fully crewed spaceflight ahead of the launch of a commercial space tourism service.

It’s not clear when Musk will step aboard the VSS Unity spaceplane for the rocket-powered experience, though Virgin Galactic says it’s hoping to launch its space tourism service in 2022 following two more test flights this year.

Tickets for the once-in-a-lifetime experience cost $250,000, with Virgin Galactic having so far sold around 600 seats after launching sales several years ago.

According to Branson, the two billionaire entrepreneurs are actually good buddies, evidenced in part by a photo tweeted by the Virgin Galactic founder on Sunday, shortly before he headed skyward aboard Unity.

Musk also has plans to launch a space tourism service, though SpaceX’s will be more complex, offering several days in orbit aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft lifted into space by a two-stage rocket, while Virgin Galactic’s flight lasts just 15 minutes and offers passengers only a few minutes of weightlessness, as well as stunning views of Earth.

While it’s perfectly possible Musk could take a ride to space on one of his own rockets, the training process for Virgin Galactic’s flight is much shorter and so would take less time out of his busy schedule overseeing not only SpaceX, but also electric-car company Tesla, which he also leads. In addition, SpaceX doesn’t yet have a solid schedule for launching civilian-only space trips, though it is planning to conduct its first one in September using a specially designed Crew Dragon spacecraft.

Richard Branson turned Sunday’s Virgin Galactic test flight into a big marketing event for the company’s upcoming space tourism service, streaming the mission live as well as inviting a number of famous people — Musk among them — to the launch site in New Mexico. The day also featured a performance by Grammy-winning artist Khalid and a “welcome home” ceremony for the Unity crew.

Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed flight came just ahead of another one next week that will see Amazon founder Jeff Bezos ride to the edge of space aboard a New Shepard rocket built by another of his companies, Blue Origin. The flight will be the first crewed outing conducted by Blue Origin and could pave the way for a space tourism service similar to the one offered by Virgin Galactic, though the two transportation systems differ greatly.

While some folks see the billionaires’ space race as a vulgar pursuit and a waste of huge amounts of money, others are enjoying the idea of making space more accessible, even if, for now at least, the cost of tickets means only the super-rich will get to enjoy the space experience.

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Trevor Mogg
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