Virgin founder Richard Branson becomes first billionaire in space

UK billionaire Richard Branson has beat Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to become the first billionaire to reach space.

Virgin Galactic launched a crew of six, including Branson, to around 86km above the New Mexico desert on Saturday.

The flight into the lower reaches of space comes shortly before Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is set to go into space with his brother, 82-year-old woman Wally Funk, and a mystery bidder on July 20th.

Virgin Galactic, founded in 2004, is set to begin commercial operations next year.

The launch was watched by 500 people, after being delayed 90 minutes because of a midnight storm, and late-night talk show presenter Stephen Colbert acted as host for the event.

Jeff Bezos controlled space exploration company Blue Origin has publicly criticised Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo for failing to go past the Kármán line, a 100km barrier which is considered by some as the cut off for space.

However, Nasa, the US Air Force, and the Federal Aviation Administration consider the boundary to space to begin at 80km.

Virgin Galactic has roughly 600 ticketholders, who have paid between $200,000 and $250,000 each for their tickets.

“I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space,’ said Branson after the journey. “We are at the vanguard of a new space age.

“As Virgin’s founder, I was honoured to test the incredible customer experience as part of this remarkable crew of mission specialists and now astronauts.”

He added: “I can’t wait to share this experience with aspiring astronauts around the world.”

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