The world watched with excitement as former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and three others lifted off July 20 toward the farthest edge of Earth’s atmosphere aboard the Blue Origin New Shepard. This mission took place only nine days after Virgin Group founder Richard Branson boarded the Virgin Galactic VSS Unity, embarking on the first fully crewed commercial voyage to space.
More than space tourists, Bezos and Branson are leading the way to commercial and public utilization of space previously only imagined in science fiction. These pioneers of both high-tech business and new space are now blazing trails into an emerging commercial landscape of untold opportunity and promise.
While some may debate the scientific and societal benefits of these flights as well as their cost, the symbolic and technical impact of the past several days cannot be ignored. On the heels of the 2019 commemoration of Apollo 11 and its monumental legacy for crewed spaceflight, we are now witness to another profound first step for humankind.
These two flights represent the start of a thrilling new space race as well as a time to celebrate a key milestone of our civilization. After all, our overall advancement and progress have always been measured by transportation and exploration. While reflecting that the real competitors in this arena are the U.S and Chinese governments, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson remarked that Branson’s flight is a “great” milestone.
We believe that the launches of the wealthiest man in the entire world and another billionaire businessman surpass the perception of “rich boys and their toys” to serve as compelling demonstrations of boldness, calculated risk, and the endless possibilities of technical innovation and excellence. Just as the achievements of the United States space program heralded by NASA have delivered countless spinoff technologies that have improved every aspect of life on this planet, the resulting inspiration of a generation and nation-building drive have cemented our preeminence across the world and our destiny to do even greater things.
Although Virgin Galactic aims to “fill the world with astronauts,” Branson offers a universal lesson that success in any venture occurs “when preparation meets opportunity.” Bezos’ thoughts on the disruptive nature of invention are similarly inspired: “If you want to be understood at all times, then don’t do anything new.” We sincerely agree and have said this before: what an incredibly exciting time to be in the business of space and other disruptive technological fields. As if this wasn’t already one for the record books, Bezos was accompanied by female aviator Wally Funk, one of the original so-called Mercury 13 or First Lady Astronaut Trainees who never went to space, becoming the oldest astronaut in history.
The months ahead should prove to be just as exciting as billionaire Elon Musk and SpaceX will soon launch civilian astronauts aboard Crew Dragon, along with efforts from other companies like Axiom. This unprecedented moment calls for congratulating Bezos and Branon — as well as Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic — for the courageous firsts of many catalysts for an extraordinary future.
Michael Lencioni is CEO of Stellar Solutions, a global aerospace engineering services provider to commercial, defense, intelligence, civil and international sectors.
This article originally appeared in the August 2021 issue of SpaceNews magazine.