On July 11, Virgin Galactic finalized the plan for founder Richard Branson to conduct a test flight on the edge of space with five others. The British billionaire said that his wife may be nervous about the launch, but he I am not afraid.

“I have been looking forward to it for 17 years,” Branson said in an interview on Tuesday at the U.S. Spaceport near the truth or aftermath in a remote town in New Mexico.

He said that pre-flight preparations will only increase excitement before the scheduled launch on Sunday, which will take place a week before his 71st birthday.

“Every bit about it is a moment that makes me nervous,” he said.

The launch of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity rocket plane over the desert will mark the fourth manned test mission of the space travel company beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. But it will be the first to carry a complete space traveler, including Branson, two pilots and three mission experts.

The Unity will launch at an altitude of about 50,000 feet from the Virgin Galactic aircraft carrier, and then rely on its own rocket power to soar to the boundary of space, where the crew will experience weightlessness for about 4 minutes, and then begin to descend back to Earth.

This trip was not without the inherent dangers of space flight. An early prototype rocket plane crashed during a test flight over the Mojave Desert in California in 2014. One pilot was killed and the other was seriously injured.

When asked how his family reacted to the news that he would join the Sunday crew last week, Branson said that his child-who likes adventures like him-was very excited, but suggested that his wife, Joan, would support it. , But more cautious.

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“My wife is the kind of person who gets scared on a Virgin Atlantic plane,” he said. “She is the last person to want to do this kind of thing. But since I tried to fly over the Atlantic, Pacific, or around the world in a balloon, she has known me, and she still seems to love us.”

He smiled and quoted his wife and said: “‘If you are stupid enough to do these wonderful things, you can do it, but I won’t go to your funeral.'”

By joining the flight on July 11, Branson has positioned himself to defeat rival entrepreneur Jeff Bezos into space within 9 days.

Bezos, the founder of retail giant Amazon, will board the suborbital flight of his own private rocket company Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft on July 20.

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are competing head-on in the emerging space tourism business.

However, Branson denied that he and Bezos are competing for who will take the stage first.

“I just hope everything goes well for him and the people who travel with him. I look forward to talking with him about his journey when he returns,” Branson said of Bezos. “I talked to him two or three weeks ago and we all blessed each other.”

The success of both companies is considered to be the key to nurturing a new industry that aims to eventually make space tourism mainstream, at least for high-paying customers.

Virgin said it plans to conduct two additional test flights of its vehicles before the company starts commercial services in 2022, and Branson said he expects to provide “regular” paid flights next year.

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He also said that he believes there is enough room in the market for his company to compete with Bezos’s company.

Branson said: “None of us can build enough spacecraft to meet demand.”

© Thomson Reuters 2021