The two companies leading the pack in the pursuit of space tourism say they are just months away from their first out-of-this-world passenger flights — though neither has set a firm date.
Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, and Blue Origin, by Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, are racing to be the first to finish their tests — with both companies using radically different technology.
Neither Virgin nor Blue Origin’s passengers will find themselves orbiting the Earth: instead, their weightless experience will last just minutes. It’s an offering far different from the first space tourists, who travelled to the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2000s.
Virgin Galacticcan takes six passengers and two pilots aboard its SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity.
Mr. Branson in May said that he hoped to himself be one of the first passengers in the next 12 months. About 650 people make up the rest of the waiting list, the company said.
Blue Origin, meanwhile, has developed a system closer to the traditional rocket: the New Shepard. Six passengers take their place in a “capsule” fixed to the rocket. After launching, it detaches and continues its trajectory toward the sky. During an April 29 test, the capsule made it to 66 miles.
Company officials were recently quoted as saying the first tests with Blue Origin astronauts would take place “at the end of this year.”