Space Tourism Has Officially Taken Off

"It will be humbling. It will be spiritual." This is the promise that Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc SPCE gave to customers for its offering of a moment in space back in 2004. It took almost 17 years of development, but Virgin Galactic delivered on its promise. Sir Richard Branson made history on July 11th as the first crew flight reached the edge of space and returned safely to Earth.

Today, July 20th, another billionaire, Amazon's AMZN recently retired boss, will blast into space, with his brother, an 82-year-old pioneer of the space race, and an 18-year-old student. They will do so in a capsule with the biggest windows flown into space in the first crewed flight of his rocket ship, New Shepard, made by Blue Origin.

Virgin's Route

Virgin's spacecraft called VSS Unity launched above the skies of New Mexico. Two pilots operated the vehicle carrying the founder and three employees. History was made after VSS Unity was released by a carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, above 40,000 feet, firing its rocket engine to reach the speed three times faster than the speed of sound, ultimately reaching the edge of space and offering a few minutes of weightlessness to its passengers.

Virgin Galactic rocket plane's 1.5-hour mission has been accomplished after many technical difficulties, including a fatal crash in 2014. The rocket plane reached an altitude where the sky turns black and the Earth's horizon curves away into the distance. This has been by far one of the most challenging ventures of Sir Branson's career but he has succeeded in making his childhood dream a reality and beating his fellow and much wealthier) billionaire to the heavens along the way.

Blue Origin's Route

Although for a slightly less time in the heavens, Mr. Bezos plans to go a bit higher. Although expected to last for 11 minutes, this venture has been decades in the making The chosen flight date has been timed to coincide with the date in 1969 when the Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon. Mr. Bezos was also the first to announce the mission, only to see Sir Richard then move up his own published schedule. While Virgin Galactic has 600 individuals who've paid deposits for tickets priced at up to $250,000, Mr. Bezos has been secretive about how he intends to commercialize his space travel venture.

The Marketing Strategy: "My Rocket Ship Is Better Than Your Spacecraft"

The US government awards astronaut wings to anyone who exceeds the altitude of 80km or 50 miles. Blue Origin's recent ad took at dig at Virgin Galactic, repeating that its passengers would forever have an asterisk by their name because they won't reach the Kármán line of 100km or the "internationally recognized" altitude for where space begins. Origin also tweeted about Unity's impacts on the environment being far greater than New Shepard's. As a reminder, Virgin Galactic told the BBC that the carbon footprint of flying in Unity is equivalent to a business flight from London to New York, but it also stated that all the company's activities are being offset.

Canaccord Genuity equity analyst Ken Herbert sees Branson's achievement as a massive marketing coup for Virgin Galactic and an important milestone on the path toward starting passenger flights, which are assumed to happen in early 2022. The price of tickets is yet to be announced, but Bernstein expects them to be at a range between $400,000 and $500,000.

The Verdict

Mr. Bezos' company states that going above the line makes for a different experience altogether but on both trips, passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness and according to a former NASA astronaut a professor of aerospace engineering, Gregory Chamitoff, people won't be able to tell the difference between being 50 miles and 62 miles above Earth. However, the bigger picture is that both of these developments mean that space tourism has officially taken off-  Sir Richard just might have gloated a bit for getting to enjoy the view and the experience first.

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