Bad news for anyone who had their money riding on something exceedingly grim happening this morning during a billionaire’s self-aggrandizing livestream hosted by Stephen Colbert: Famous British virgin Richard Branson is now a space-billionaire, meaning it’ll be harder than ever to get him to pay taxes. This morning, Branson successfully took a trip on his Virgin Galactic rocket-plane Unity (along with some other people who aren’t famous, or at least who aren’t billionaires) up into space and then back down to the Earth. The AP explains that this makes Branson the first person to “blast off” in his own spaceship, with Jeff Bezos—who also doesn’t pay enough taxes!—set to make his own ego-powered trip outside of the comforting embrace of our mother Gaia later this month.
But fuck Bezos, and Elon Musk while we’re at it, because they’ve both been beaten to the punch by a 71-year-old man in a Phantom Menace-ass chrome spaceship that was basically just a rocket with wings. The mechanics of the Unity plane were extensively laid out and drooled over in the aforementioned livestream (which you can see at this link and below), but it was basically attached to the bottom of a weird double-plane that flew it up really high and then dropped it, at which point Unity’s rocket flipped on and shot it straight up into space (or about 50 miles up, which NASA says is the point where “the sky” becomes “space”). Then, after only a couple of minutes, it gently floated back down to the Earth and landed safely. So yeah, Branson lived, but the whole thing was relatively straightforward anyway. At the risk of complimenting a billionaire, putting a rocket on an airplane does seem like a safer way to do this than putting a chair on a rocket.
The whole livestream was just an extended commercial for Virgin Galactic’s space tourism business, where “regular people” can take trips just like Branson did (“regular people” is in quotes because this will surely still be prohibitively expensive). It’s all kind of gross and weird, coming in after a global pandemic that killed a bunch of people and destroyed a bunch of industries and cost a lot of people their jobs, but at least rich guys like Branson and Bezos are still doing well enough that they can fund stupid, stupid, stupid vanity projects like this (and not, you know, paying an appropriate amount of taxes). But hey, if you want a silver lining: More billionaires in space means fewer billionaires on Earth. Hard to argue with that.