From driving an amphibious car across the English Channel to crossing the Pacific Ocean in a hot-air-balloon, British billionaire and big-time business magnate, Sir Richard Branson, has done some pretty extraordinary things over the years. But the one thing that many of his fans across the globe want to know is whether the celebrated philanthropist has crossed into the final frontier – space.
Branson has never been to space, but it’s not for lack of trying. The founder of the Virgin Group and lifelong thrill seeker has long sought to traverse the cosmos, but as of yet, he has not been successful in this ultimate adventure.
Back in 2004, Branson founded Virgin Galactic, a British space tourism company, and began developing commercial spacecraft with the intention of providing suborbital spaceflights to all who could get their hands on a ticket. In celebration of Branson’s 70th birthday in July 2020, Virgin Galactic was preparing to send the billionaire on a space odyssey, but, following the COVID-19 pandemic, the high-profile birthday festivities never took place.
When Will Richard Branson Go to Space?
For Branson, the question of when he will finally go to space is just a matter of time. The entrepreneur has had his eye on commercial space travel for many years and, Branson himself stated that he’d certainly be among the first aboard a Virgin Galactic flight.
When questioned about his commercial space travel objectives, Branson famously said: “Unless you dream, you’re not going to achieve anything.”
Has Virgin Galactic Flown Anyone to Space?
Following numerous delays and a fatal test flight over the Mojave Desert in 2014 that saw one pilot die and another one seriously injured, Virgin Galactic is yet to fly any paying customers into space. Since that crash, though, Branson’s company has succeeded in a number of test flights.
Taking a celestial journey aboard a Virgin Galactic flight is no cheap excursion either, with a single ticket believed to cost $250,000. The prospect of venturing up into the cosmos has already attracted some of the world’s biggest stars with Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Bieber, and Ashton Kutcher all purchasing tickets.
In early 2020, Virgin Galactic began preparing operations at Spaceport America in New Mexico after many years of testing at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
Richard Branson’s Space Race
Despite taking some big steps in his pursuit of reaching the stars, Branson has come up against stiff competition in the form of like-minded billionaires, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos.
Musk’s SpaceX, which was founded in 2002, has set its sights on the colonization of Mars, and Musk committed much of his career to mould that dream into a reality. In 2020, Musk’s SpaceX became the first private company to send humans to orbit.
Finally, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, an aerospace manufacturer founded in 2000, is exploring ways to send people into suborbital space. The high-profile CEO of Amazon said that Blue Origin was “the most important work I’m doing”.
Branson has a lot of faith in Virgin Atlantic, though, and has spoken very emphatically about his own outlook on commercial space travel: “Today’s generation has the technological ability to do more industrial work up there, providing communications, advanced science and even, potentially, solar power and [computer] server farms in space—thus taking CO2-intensive industry out of the atmosphere.”
Yet, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, which took its financial toll on all those with stakes in the travel industry, Branson was faced with one of the biggest hurdles in regards to his pursuit of commercial space travel.
Richard Branson’s Biggest Obstacle
In May 2020, following the outbreak of COVID-19 around the globe, it was reported that Branson was set to sell as around $400 million of his shares in Virgin Galactic in a bid to save as much of his business empire as possible. With so many flights grounded and holidays abandoned due to the pandemic, Branson’s Virgin Atlantic was even said to be on the verge of “going bust”.
It was announced at one stage that Virgin Atlantic, Branson’s brainchild, would be cutting around 1,350 jobs, while the entrepreneur searched for new investors capable of injecting emergency funds into the airline.
While the fallout from the pandemic is unlikely to affect Branson’s long-term goals, the challenges encountered in 2020 may well prove to be a setback for the business magnate in the short term.
Eyes on the Stars, Feet on the Ground
Virgin Galactic has certainly had its ups and downs, but Branson is not one to give up. He’s a serial adventurer that has summited Mont Blanc, smashed the record for the fastest Atlantic crossing by boat, and driven down New York’s Fifth Avenue in a tank. So, if anyone’s capable of initiating space tourism, it’s Sir Richard Branson.
But, for now, he’s a man with his eyes on the stars and his feet firmly on the ground.