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Science | Geography | Citizenship | PSHE

Battling billionaires set for new space race

Do they have more money than sense? Today, Richard Branson is making his final preparations for the journey of a lifetime. But is it worth spending billions for a few minutes beyond Earth?  Two of the world's richest men are preparing for a showdown. In one corner is Astronaut 001, also known as Richard BransonHis businesses have included Virgin Records, Virgin Trains and the space-tourism company Virgin Galactic., with a net worth of 4.2bn. His rocket, VSS Unity, is 60 feet long. His teammates are five of his Virgin Galactic employees and his mission is to see Earth from above - and to evaluate the comfort of the seats. In the other corner of the ring is Jeff Bezos, net worth 144.5bn, founder of Amazon and Blue Origin spaceflight services company. His team inside the New Shepard rocket include his younger brother, the winner of a 20m charity auction and an 82-year-old woman called Wally Funk. Who will reach space first? Things are looking good for Branson. If all goes according to plan, the businessman will take off this Sunday for a thrilling four minutes of weightlessness, beating Bezos by just nine days. "My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars," Branson said. "It's time to turn that dream into a reality." But it is not all bad news for Bezos. His lift-off, timed for the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on 20 July, may be nine days later than Branson's, but his rocket will go 12 miles higher. "It's a very different experience," insists Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith. Not everyone is excited by the battle of the billionaires. "In a world beset by poverty, hunger and climate change, it really is a great relief to hear that one billionaire has beaten another in the space tourism race," comedian David Baddiel said sarcastically on Friday. Each year, Bezos spends up to 720m to finance Blue Origin. And dozens of celebrities, from Angelina Jolie to Justin Bieber, have shelled out 182,000 each for seats on Branson's SpaceShipTwo rockets. Indeed, neither man is afraid to make extravagant purchases. Richard Branson is the owner of a 73m private island. And Jeff Bezos once spent 20m building a 500ft clock that ticks once a year and symbolises "long-term thinking". But now, both insist that their spending on space travel is about the good of science and humanity, not ego or status. For some, the motivations of these modern-day explorers simply do not matter. The pyramids of Ancient Egypt, enjoyed by millions around the world today, were tombs for then PharaohsAncient Egyptian kings, but they were probably also symbols of enormous power and prestige. The controversial 15th-Century explorer Christopher ColumbusA 15th Century Italian explorer and navigator whose trips across the Atlantic opened the way for European colonisation of the Americas. brought great riches to the Spanish empire when he set foot in America. But he also amassed huge personal wealth and had an agreement that if he discovered new lands, he would be declared Admiral of the Ocean Seas. Today, some historians use the phrase "god, gold and glory" to describe the motives of Europe's overseas explorers. "AltruismA devotion to or selfless care for others. and egotism are the same thing," says Hannah Kerner of the Space Frontier Foundation. "When people are feeling altruistic, they feel important. The same thing happens when they feel like they're having an impact on society." Do they have more money than sense? Out of this world  No, say some. The billionaires' trips to space may be extraordinary and expensive, but that does not mean they are nonsensical. History is filled with explorers and innovators who had a huge impact on society, even if their personal motivations may have been more selfish. Even if Branson is inspired by ego and not a genuine desire to make space accessible, this does not devalue his achievements. Definitely, say others. Jeff Bezos could build ten US hospitals a year with the money he spends on Blue Origin. It is ridiculous to spend so much money on just a few minutes at the edge of space. Branson and Bezos could follow the lead of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and spend billions to help eradicate malariaA serious parasite infection transmitted by mosquito bites. It is one of the world’s most lethal diseases., improve sanitation and fight Covid-19. Instead, they are massaging their egos. KeywordsRichard Branson - His businesses have included Virgin Records, Virgin Trains and the space-tourism company Virgin Galactic.

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