Richard Branson is busy preparing for his inaugural spaceflight aboard a Virgin Galactic spaceplane this weekend (July 11). In interviews ahead of his big trip, the 70-year-old billionaire opened up about how his family feel about his dangerously adventurous spirit and what he really thinks of rival space entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, both of whom have plans to go to space themselves.
“I’ve been looking forward to this for 17 years…Every bit about it is a pinch-me moment,” Branson said in an interview with Reuters Tuesday from Spaceport America near the town of Truth or Consequences in New Mexico, where his spaceflight will take off on Sunday.
Virgin Galactic announced Branson’s participation in the upcoming mission last week. Asked how his family reacted to the news, Branson said his children were excited, while his wife, Joan, was a bit nervous.
“My wife is the sort of person who would be terrified on a Virgin Atlantic airplane. She’s the last person who would want to do something like this,” he said, then quoted his wife telling him, laughing,”‘If you’re foolish enough to do these wonderful things, you can do it, but I won’t be going to your funeral.'”
Sunday’s flight will be Virgin Galactic’s fourth crewed test flight and one of the last before rolling out commercial service. Branson, along with two pilots and three mission specialists, will fly in a VSS Unity vehicle first to an altitude of 50,000 feet (15 km) with the help of a carrier aircraft. After that, the VSS Unity will ignite its own rocket motor and soar beyond Earth’s atmosphere. The crew will experience several minutes of weightlessness before beginning a descent back to Earth.
On July 20, another billionaire, Jeff Bezos, is set to embark on a similar ride in a Blue Origin New Shepard rocket. Bezos actually announced the trip earlier than Branson. But Branson denied that he and Bezos were in a contest to see who will fly first.
“I know nobody will believe me when I say it, but honestly, there isn’t [competition],” Branson said on NBC’s “Today Show” Tuesday.
“I just wish him and people going up with him all the very best. I look forward to talking to him about his ride when he comes back,” he told Reuters. “I spoke to him two or three weeks ago, and we both wished each other well.”