Virgin Galactic played no role in inviting Musk, who watched the flight from a VIP section of Spaceport America, said a spokesman for Virgin, Barney Gimbel. “This is all Richard’s inviting him. They’re buddies,” he said.
Musk has bought a ticket for a future ride on Virgin Galactic, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, while adding that representatives for Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Tesla Inc. weren’t available or couldn’t be reached for comment. A Virgin Galactic spokeswoman declined to comment on any customers’ identities.
The camaraderie served as a contrast to the third billionaire in a space trio, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, whose company had drawn a barbed contrast in recent days between the higher altitude of New Shepard’s rocket than Branson’s spaceship flies.
Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc.’s vehicle flies to about 55 miles, while Blue Origin’s rocket and capsule tops 62 miles (100 kilometers). The latter altitude is the threshold of the so-called Karman line demarcating space, although the U.S. government, including NASA, considers space to be above 50 miles.
Bezos struck a more conciliatory tone over the weekend with a message of congratulations for Branson and the Virgin Galactic crew. Bezos intends to fly to space aboard New Shepard on July 20, a date that Branson superseded with a surprise July 1 announcement that he would blast to space today, a week before his 71st birthday.
“@richardbranson and crew, congratulations on the flight. Can’t wait to join the club!” Bezos wrote Sunday on his Instagram page.