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Who will win the billionaire’s space race?

Meet the billionaires trying to outdo each other in the quest to go higher
The Billionares Space Race. Photos: Richard Branson/Virgin Galactic, Elon Musk/Britta Pedersen-Pool/Getty, Jeff Bezos/Blue Origin

Your personal wealth is larger than the GDP of many countries. Reaching a certain age, buying a Porsche convertible isn’t going to scratch that mid-life crisis itch. So, instead, you use some of your spare change to fulfil a childhood fantasy and fly into space.

That’s the mission of some of the world’s richest men. Why solve world hunger or any number of big issues when you can throw millions into a vanity project?

Neither Amazon founder Jeff Bezos nor Tesla tycoon Elon Musk are satisfied with being the richest man on the planet, they want to be the richest in space too. And our own blushing virgin Richard Branson also has his sights fixed on the stars. But how do their attempts compare?

Jeff Bezos

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Jeff Bezos foudned Blue origin in 2000. Photos: Blue Origin

Founded in 2000, Bezos’ spaceflight company Blue Origin will launch its first manned mission on July 20, with the founder and current richest man onboard. The New Shepard rocket is reusable and, named after legendary astronaut Alan Shepard, it will take off exactly 52 years after the Apollo 11 mission.

Bezos will be joined by his younger brother Mark as well as Wally Funk, one of the Mercury candidates passed over in the 1960s in favour of male colleagues. At 82, she will become the oldest ever astronaut. Another crew member won their flight in an auction, paying £20.26m for the 10-minute trip.

Richard Branson

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Richard Branson Welcomes VSS Unity Home from Second Supersonic Flight. May 29th 2018. Photo: 2018 Virgin Galactic

Cheekily pipping Bezos to the launchpad by nine days, Branson was due to hop aboard the SpaceShipTwo Unity on July 11. That day is between the time we go to print and when you’re likely to be reading this so we hope the mission was a success. The winged ‘space plane’ is carried by another craft to 40,000 feet before climbing under its own power then landing like a traditional plane.

It will be one of the final test flights before tourists can buy tickets – more than 600 people have their names on the waiting list, with tickets likely to cost hundreds of thousands of pounds each to experience about four minutes in a weightless environment on the edge of space, about 50 miles up.

Elon Musk

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Elon Musk's SpaceX is a cool £35m return fare. Photo: SpaceX

Unlike Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, which both have a focus on space tourism, Musk has already developed a relationship with Nasa to carry cargo and crew to the International Space Station. His SpaceX company was founded in 2002, with the first manned launch from US soil since 2011 taking place in May 2020 with two Nasa astronauts.

Tickets will be on sale to the rest of us by the middle of 2022. The good news is you don’t have to be a billionaire to live out your space fantasies, but you’ll still have to be able to afford the £35m return fare. However, instead of just a hop up and down, passengers will orbit the planet.