Richard Branson, the British billionaire, is all set to fly into space today on his own company Virgin Galactic's first fully crewed test flight aboard a passenger rocket plane, the VSS Unity. In doing so, Branson will be one step ahead of his rivals Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in what has been dubbed the "billionaire space race".
Jeff Bezos, the founder of e-commerce firm Amazon, however, appeared unfazed with his billionaire rival apparently besting him in the space race. Taking to Instagram, Bezos wished Branson and the whole team a "successful and safe flight".
"Best of luck!" Bezos said.
Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and SpaceX founder Elon Musk are all popular for their interest in space and commercial flights.
Branson had earlier said that he was not interested in participating in some "space race", shortly after Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced his plans to make a similar trip on July 20 through his own space company, Blue Origin. However, Branson later decided to launch himself into space nine days before Bezos does to become the first billionaire to do so. If all goes according to plan, Sunday's flight will give Branson the bragging rights over his rivals.
Branson's Virgin Galactic spaceflight is expected to last about 90 minutes and end where it began - on a runway at Spaceport America near the aptly named town of Truth or Consequences. Although this is the company's 22nd test flight of the spacecraft and its fourth crewed mission beyond the Earth's atmosphere, this particular mission will be the first to carry a full complement of space travelers – two pilots and four "mission specialists," Branson among them.
Branson's debut journey to the frontiers of space will be streamed live across the world by Virgin Galactic through its official social media channels. Just hours ahead of the test flight launch, the company said that the live stream will begin at 6am PT (Pacific Time) on Sunday. This comes down to around 6:30pm IST.
Richard Branson will be accompanied by pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, flying the VSS Unity. Pilots CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer will also be there flying the VMS Eve. Others in the crew include chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses and lead operations engineer Colin Bennett. Vice president of government affairs and research operations Sirisha Bandla, the third Indian-origin woman set to head to space, is also a part of the crew.