Space billionaire Elon Musk bought a ticket to space from fellow space billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, The Wall Street Journal cites a company spokesperson as saying.
Musk, CEO and founder of SpaceX, had the Virgin Galactic ticket before Branson’s flight to space on Sunday, a person familiar with the purchase tells The Verge. It’s unclear where Musk stands in Virgin Galactic’s line of about 600 other prospective SpaceShipTwo passengers, but the ticket itself is an extension of his apparent friendship with Branson that contrasts with all of the sass and pettiness this month from Blue Origin, the other top space company founded by the space industry’s other super-rich billionaire, Jeff Bezos. It’s also seen as a friendly endorsement of Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered plane.
Branson flew to space on Sunday aboard his company’s SpaceShipTwo spaceplane in a ridiculously extravagant test flight that featured elaborately produced video segments, a concert, and celebrity appearances from Stephen Colbert and astronaut Chris Hadfield. After a successful midair launch, Branson and three other Virgin Galactic employees briefly floated around the spaceplane’s cabin in microgravity before heading back toward the ground a few minutes later.
Musk’s SpaceX has been mostly focused on government contracts to ferry astronauts and cargo into space, but it has its first private astronaut mission teed up for September. That mission will be a longer (and far more expensive) trip into orbit, not just a few minutes above the edge of Earth’s atmosphere like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin.
Musk and Branson are good pals. The Tesla CEO watched Branson’s takeoff in person from Spaceport America on Sunday. “Thanks for being so typically supportive and such a good friend, Elon,” Branson tweeted before the flight. Branson spent his pre-dawn morning before liftoff with Musk. “Great to start the morning with a friend,” he said in another tweet. “Feeling good, feeling excited, feeling ready.”
SpaceShipTwo is the rocket-plane that stands at the center of Virgin Galactic’s nascent space tourism business. Each ticket for one of the plane’s six seats sells for roughly $250K, and the company has booked over 600 passengers so far, including celebrities like Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio. Bezos’ Blue Origin is most competitive with Virgin for a slice of the space tourism pie, aiming to launch customers to a slightly higher altitude on a totally different system: the suborbital New Shepard rocket.
Bezos’ own show-and-tell with New Shepard is scheduled for July 20th.