Branson may make a last-ditch effort to beat Bezos into space

Sir Richard Branson takes his shirt off.

Enlarge / Sir Richard Branson takes off his shirt to don a T-shirt that says “Future Astronaut Training Program” that was given to him by Virgin Galactic Test Pilot Mark “Forger” Stucky as Air and Space Museum Director Ellen Stofan looks on. (credit: JIM WATSON / AFP / Getty Images)

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos said on Monday he would fly on the first human spaceflight of his company’s New Shepard spacecraft. This mission will launch from Blue Origin’s spaceport in West Texas on July 20, which is the anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing in 1969.

With this timeline, Bezos seemed almost certain to beat his suborbital space tourism rival, Sir Richard Branson, into space. Setting aside whether Branson’s VSS Unity vehicle reaches space—its maximum altitude is just below the Kármán line, or 100 km—this is nonetheless a meaningful milestone.

Both Bezos and Branson have been investing in the space industry for about two decades, and both men have made clear they intend to fly on their own spacecraft as soon as practically possible.

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