Richard Branson made history by becoming the first billionaire in space just a few days ago. Now, renowned astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson has expressed concerns about whether Branson’s flight was in space.
DeGrasse Tyson is the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York, and was a prodigy of famous space scientist Carl Sagar.
In a recent interview with CNN, DeGrasse Tyson stated that Richard Branson did not go to space. ‘First and foremost, it was suborbital. Alan Shepard, a NASA astronaut, did it 60 years ago when he lifted off from Cape Canaveral and landed in the ocean. You will plummet and return to Earth if you do not enter orbit quickly enough,’ he said.
He further put up some questions, ‘So, did you get high enough? Did you go into orbit? Did you actually go anywhere? Did you go to the Moon, to Mars or beyond?’
DeGrasse Tyson demonstrated his point using a globe, explaining that the International Space Station and a spacecraft orbit would be 1 centimetre away from Earth, but the moon would be as far away as 10 metres. According to this scale, Richard Branson climbed to a height of about 2 mm above the ground.
DeGrasse added: ‘It’s okay if you want to call it ‘space’ because average humans haven’t gotten there before and it’s a first for you. That’s why it takes eight minutes to get into orbit and three days to reach the moon. That is actually space travel. So I don’t see it as, oh, let’s go into space. No. What you are going to have is a nice view of the Earth.’
‘I don’t even know if you’re going to see the curvature. I did some calculations and I think not. If you are 2 millimeters from the surface of this globe, you don’t have the full perspective. It is a visual effect that you get from 50 miles up (about 80 kilometers). So have fun,’ he said.
Whatever the case may be, the fact that Branson has completed the first space tourist voyage and the billionaire Jeff Bezos is poised to do the same next week marks the birth of a new business.