Billionaire Richard Branson understands critics who say the resources used to fuel his flight to the edge of space on Sunday could have been better used to tackle other issues, but believes there is room for both .
The founder of Virgin Galactic addressed those who say issues like economic inequality, climate change and the pandemic deserve money from the ultra-rich ahead of areas like civilian space travel in an exclusive interview alongside by Virgin Galactic Vice President of Government Affairs Sirisha Bandla TODAY Wednesday.
“I 100% agree that wealthy people should spend most of their money, 90% or more of their money, trying to solve these problems, but we should also create new industries. who can create 800 engineers and scientists who can create wonderful things that can make space accessible at a fraction of the environmental cost it has been in the past, ”Branson told Hoda Kotb.
He added that the environmental cost of sending people by Virgin Galactic to suborbital space is equivalent to a round trip for a Virgin Atlantic trip from London and back.
Branson, 70, on Sunday fulfilled his lifelong dream aboard a rocket-powered vehicle developed by Virgin Galactic, when his flight with five other crew members took off from the New Mexico desert and reached the edge of space over 53 miles high.
The flight lasted just over an hour and included about four minutes of weightlessness.
Branson and Bandla were part of a six-person crew that included pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses, and Chief Operations Engineer Colin Bennett.
The flight was a dream that Bandla didn’t think was possible at first, as she tried to go the traditional route to becoming an astronaut, but was disqualified due to her poor eyesight.
· Watch TODAY all day! Get TODAY’s best news, information and inspiration, all day. · Sign up for the newsletter TODAY!
“I was trying to figure out how I was going to get there, and around the same time, Richard actually announced that he was creating Virgin Galactic (in 2004), and this was going to be a space line for everyone and make the space accessible to everyone, ”said Bandla TODAY. “And I remember thinking, this is how I’m going to get into space.
“Fast forward to today, I have joined Virgin Galactic in this end to hopefully open up the space for everyone.”
Bandla added that another benefit of Virgin Galactic’s space travel is the ability to conduct experiments in space while in flight.
“We now have the ability to send researchers with their experiments,” Bandla said. “Usually they would give an astronaut or NASA or some other agency their experience with instructions, but now they can fly with it.
“So on this last flight, if you look at some of the pictures, you see me playing with this tube, I’m actually doing a science experiment in space.”
Branson has also beaten fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos to the edge of space, as Bezos is scheduled to fly from Texas aboard a rocket designed by his own space company, Blue Origin, on July 20.
“I’m happy he has the most amazing experience and the team with him,” Branson.
Sunday’s flight is the first step in Virgin Galactic’s hopes of starting commercial space flights with private customers next year with a reported cost of around $ 250,000 per person for space travel. The company has already been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to carry passengers on future commercial flights to suborbital space.
Branson is also trying to open up space travel to more than the rich. Virgin Galactic has announced that it has partnered with fundraising platform Omaze to launch a raffle to offer two tickets to a Virgin Galactic space flight slated to launch next year.