Following Richard Branson’s successful ride in VSS Unity, which went high enough to see the curvature of the Earth but not above the Karman Line, Branson said that Elon Musk had shown up in his kitchen at 3am on the day of the flight to wish him luck.
Branson said of the visit, in which Musk was seen without socks or shoes on, “Great to start the morning with a friend.”
Branson’s ride went up from New Mexico’s Spaceport America. During the flight, he radioed back that it was the “experience of a lifetime” and gave a little inspirational talk. Now Elon Musk has reportedly purchased a ticket for a ride on Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane.
If these reports are confirmed, Elon Musk will have joined a long list of potential customers who are willing to pay $250,000 apiece for a ride on VSS Unity or a similar spaceplane if Virgin Galactic chooses to make more of them. That waitlist includes big names in entertainment like Lady Gaga, who has expressed interest in performing the first musical concert in space. Virgin Galactic says that it won’t comment on possible future passengers.
This may cause some to wonder why Musk doesn’t just fly on one of his own spacecraft, like Branson did and Jeff Bezos plans to do on a spacecraft built by Blue Origin on July 20. (As Richard Branson cheekily put it in a recent interview, “Jeff who?”) SpaceX has already flown crews for NASA as part of the Commercial Crew Program, with the Crew-2 mission still docked to the International Space Station.
However, it is possible that Elon Musk is simply supporting a friend whom he does not have a rivalry with, like he does with Jeff Bezos (plus a $250,000 ticket is probably cheaper than using one of his own Crew Dragons for a flight).
Although Musk has spoken of having suborbital point-to-point flights using the Starship spacecraft, he has mostly focused on orbital flight and eventual trips to the Moon and Mars. Interest for trips into space includes more than 72,000 entries into the Inspiration4 sweepstakes, which generated $113 million in donations for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and 200 entries into a business competition that promoted the Shift4Shop ecommerce solution.
Events like this indicate considerable interest in “space tourism” even though the cost is still out of reach for most people. Elon Musk has indicated that he thinks it’s reasonable to get the cost per person for a trip to Mars down to about $500,000 if he can start launching Starships to the red planet on a mass scale, though he has admitted that settling Mars will be a highly risky venture.
“The risk is not zero. … When you’ve got a brand new mode of transportation, you have to have pioneers,” he said during the announcement of the finalization of the Inspiration4 crew.
Some critics of Jeff Bezos have trolled him by creating a petition saying that Bezos should not return to Earth during his flight, though it is somewhat crass to wish ill fortune for anyone who is serious about making strides in space. As normal for one of Elon Musk’s companies, SpaceX has not released a statement on Elon Musk’s potential flight on Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity.