Show an ad over header. AMP

I am the FIRST

Bezos vs. Branson: Another billionaire space battle is brewing

The race between billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson to make suborbital space tourism a viable business is heating up.

Why it matters: The disagreements between Bezos and Elon Musk capture the limelight, but the competition between Bezos' Blue Origin and Branson's Virgin Galactic could soon make space a destination for ordinary citizens.


Driving the news: Bezos announced earlier this month that he's planning to fly with his brother and two other passengers on the first crewed mission for Blue Origin's New Shepard space system on July 20.

  • If that happens, they will have leapfrogged Virgin Galactic, a company that many expected to fly its founder first.
  • Branson has long been expected to fly on one of the first operational flights for his company, and the blog Parabolic Arc recently reported he's going to try to beat Bezos to the edge of space.
  • "I think part of how they're shaping the competition is by putting themselves on the line as part of the face of the competition," Victoria Samson of the Secure World Foundation told me.

What's happening: The two companies go about getting people to suborbital space differently.

  • Blue Origin uses a rocket to launch a capsule carrying its passengers up to about 62 miles above the Earth. From there, the crew will experience minutes of weightlessness as they start their descent back to the surface.
  • Virgin Galactic uses a carrier aircraft to fly its space plane high above Earth. The plane drops from the carrier and its rocket engine kicks on, sending passengers on a flight to the edge of space before gliding back to the planet.
  • Neither of these systems are fast enough to go orbital, so unlike SpaceX's Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket, which brings astronauts to the space station, suborbital flights only last a matter of minutes.

The intrigue: It's not yet clear how many members of the public will be interested in these rides to the edge of space or whether the market for suborbital space travel will be sustainable in the long term.

  • "We're really at the early stages in terms of expanding how we're using space ... There's a possibility that there's room for both [Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin]," Samson said, adding the market may not be clear for another five to 10 years.

What’s next: Virgin Galactic — a publicly traded company — is squarely focused on suborbital tourism, but Blue Origin is looking to diversify its business and start sending payloads into orbit with a own heavy lift rocket that's in development.

What to watch: The billionaire competitions can affect the way the public understands and interacts with space in the future, for better or for worse.

  • Some are already voicing concerns that, if suborbital tourism does take off, it will interfere with the everyday lives of regular Americans because of the restricted airspace these flights require.
  • But the competitions between these billionaires also keeps space in the public conversation, and that could get more people interested in flying.
  • "In general, every mission that goes up, every rocket that's launched, every bit of progress we make does drive down costs, makes space more affordable [and] accessible to everybody," Jared Isaacman, the commander of the all-civilian Inspiration 4 mission to orbit with SpaceX, told me.

National parks "drowning in tourists"

Data: National Park Service; note: Gateway National Recreation Area is excluded due to missing data in 2021. Chart: Connor Rothschild/Axios

National Parks across the U.S. are overflowing with a post-pandemic crush of tourists, leading to increased issues with congestion, traffic jams, user experience, strain on staff and increased damage to the parks.

Why it matters: Some are seeing such a record number they're being forced to limit, and even close, access to certain areas to avoid the danger of eroding the land. The result, ultimately, could change the way Americans interact with the parks going forward.

Keep reading... Show less

Facebook's next chapter: Build the "metaverse"

Facebook's "next chapter," Mark Zuckerberg says, is to be prime builder of "the metaverse" — an open, broadly distributed, 3D dimension online where, he says, we will all conduct much of our work and personal lives.

The big picture: Zuckerberg admits Facebook will only be one of many companies building this next-generation model of today's internet — but he also intends Facebook to lead the pack.

Keep reading... Show less

CDC asks the vaccinated to help save the unvaccinated from themselves

The Biden administration is essentially asking vaccinated Americans to help save the unvaccinated from themselves.

The big picture: America's "pandemic of the unvaccinated" has gotten bad enough that vaccine mandates are starting to catch on, and masks are coming back — in some cases, even for the vaccinated.

Keep reading... Show less

Least persuadable unvaccinated Americans are largely white and Republican

Data: Axios-Ipsos Poll; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

The most hardcore opponents of coronavirus vaccination — the group who say they'll never get one — tend to be older, whiter and more Republican than the unvaccinated Americans who are still persuadable, according to an analysis of our Axios/Ipsos Coronavirus Index.

Why it matters: As the Delta variant triggers more COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, mostly among the unvaccinated, the Biden administration and even some high-profile GOP political and media figures are trying to figure out how to nudge the country's vaccination rate higher.

Keep reading... Show less

Female Olympians push back against double standard in uniforms

Female Olympians in Tokyo are rejecting the uniforms that have long defined their sports, highlighting a double standard that exists how women dress in competition vs. men.

Driving the news: During their qualifying round Sunday, Germany's women's gymnastics team wore full-length unitards, eschewing the conventional leg-barring leotards worn by most female gymnasts.

Keep reading... Show less

Simone Biles won't defend Olympic title at gymnastics all-around final in Tokyo

U.S. gymnastics great Simone Biles won't defend her Olympic title in the upcoming all-around final as she continues to focus on her mental health, USA Gymnastics announced Wednesday.

After further medical evaluation, Simone Biles has withdrawn from the final individual all-around competition. We wholeheartedly support Simone’s decision and applaud her bravery in prioritizing her well-being. Her courage shows, yet again, why she is a role model for so many. pic.twitter.com/6ILdtSQF7o

— USA Gymnastics (@USAGym) July 28, 2021

Editor's note: This a breaking news story. Please check back for updates.

DOJ declines to defend Mo Brooks in Eric Swalwell's Capitol riot lawsuit

The Department of Justice declined late Tuesday to represent Rep. Mo Brooks in a civil lawsuit against the Georgia congressman concerning the Capitol riot.

Why it matters: Brooks had argued he should have immunity in the suit, filed by Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) against him, former President Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and lawyer Rudy Giuliani over the insurrection. He said he was acting as a government employee when he spoke at a rally before the insurrection.

Keep reading... Show less

Katie Ledecky wins gold in first women's 1500m freestyle

Katie Ledecky took home the gold medal in the women's 1,500-meter freestyle swimming race Tuesday evening, becoming the first female swimmer to win the newly added division. Team USA's Erica Sullivan won silver.

Driving the news: The long-distance 1,500m race has traditionally only been available to men at the Olympics, and the Tokyo Games mark the first time that it has been open to women.

Keep reading... Show less

Insights

mail-copy

Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories