The last century’s space race was a competition between the world’s great powers and a test of their ideologies. It would prove to be a synecdoche of the entire Cold War between the capitalist United States and the socialist Soviet Union.
The starting pistol in the race to the future was fired in 1961 when President John F Kennedy committed to “achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth” and it ended with a US victory on 24 July 1969 when the crew of the Apollo 11 mission splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean.
There are no such stakes in today’s race. The values of the future aren’t in question, merely the egos of three billionaires. One of these men is launching his private spacecraft off the planet on Sunday. Another follows suit soon after.
So here’s how they compare and what you need to know:
Sir Richard Branson
- Age: 70
- Estimated Net Worth: $5.8bn (£4.2bn)
- Company: Virgin Galactic
- Launch date: 11 July
“My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars,” said Sir Richard Branson announcing that he was going to be among the first people his spaceflight company launches on a mission.
Unfortunately, not only will Virgin Galactic’s mission fall short of the stars, the two-and-a-half hour mission will also fall short of space, at least according to the internationally agreed definition.
VSS Unity is a spaceplane (perhaps just a plane?) that launches in mid-air from the belly of a carrier aircraft at an altitude of about 15km, and then flies up to an altitude of about 80km, allowing the passengers to feel nearly weightless for approximately six minutes and glimpse the curvature of the Earth.
The problem for Sir Richard is that the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) defines the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space as 100km above Earth’s mean sea level, the so-called Karman Line, 20km higher than he is going to travel.
The definition of the edge of space is a bit of a challenge. Earth’s atmosphere doesn’t suddenly end but becomes progressively thinner at greater altitudes. In very simple terms, physicist Theodore von Karman’s solution was to define the edge of space as the highest point at which an aircraft could fly without reaching orbital velocity.
While Karman himself and the FAI regards this altitude as 100km, Sir Richard has the US Air Force and NASA on his side. They both place the boundary of space at 80km above mean sea level, partially because putting it at 100km would complicate issues regarding surveillance aircraft and reconnaissance satellites for the US – although the Department of Defence subscribes to the FAI definition.
It’s not clear whether this definition is covered by the small print of Virgin Galactic’s customer tickets, but ultimately the company aims to be operating multiple space tourism flights a year, and already has more than 600 customers for the $250,000 (£189,000) seats – including Justin Bieber and Leonardo DiCaprio.
- Age: 67
- Estimated Net Worth: $198bn (£144bn)
- Company: Blue Origin
- Launch date: 20 July
“Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space. On 20 July, I will take that journey with my brother,” said Jeff Bezos, announcing his seat on a journey to the edge of space.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket is capable of actually making it there, with a maximum achieved altitude of above 100km, but how high it will bring its four passengers hasn’t yet been confirmed.
These passengers will be Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, a mystery customer who paid $28m (£20m) for the seat in an auction, and 82-year-old Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk, a woman who had astronaut training in the 1960s but was denied the chance to go into space because of her gender.
While the mission will be scooped to launch by Virgin Galactic, by inviting Wally Funk it has managed to scoop Branson on getting a famous victim of gender injustice into space – she had previously put money down to fly with Virgin Galactic.
It will take three minutes to take the passengers up to the required altitude, at which point they will have three minutes more in which to enjoy their sudden near-weightlessness. They’ll be allowed to unbuckle their seatbelts and float around, as well as examine the curvature of the Earth through one of the capsule’s windows. Just over 10 minutes after launch, the spacecraft will land back on Earth.
The 20 July flight will fittingly occur on the anniversary of the moon landings in 1969, but unlike the Apollo missions there will be no human piloting the modules. Instead, Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft is completely autonomous and will follow a programmed mission timeline before parachuting back to Earth.
The company has said that it expects to sell seats for more tourism flights in the future, but it isn’t clear how this will happen and the tickets for New Shepard are yet to go on general sale.
- Age: 50
- Estimated Net Worth: $167bn (£121bn)
- Company: SpaceX
- Launch date: Unknown
“I want to die on Mars – just not on impact,” Elon Musk once quipped, although he hasn’t announced his immediate intention to travel into space at all.
Unlike both Bezos and Branson, Musk’s private spaceflight company, SpaceX, has a long and successful history of launching payloads way beyond the 100km mark.
SpaceX has announced it will be launching an all-civilian mission into orbit by the end of the year, with the passengers actually orbiting around the planet for up to four days before returning to Earth.
All four crew seats on the mission have been paid for by Jared Isaacman, the founder of Shift4 Payments, who has declined to reveal the costs.
Isaacman is donating two of the seats to St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, with one being given to a staff member there, and another intended to be raffled off to a member of the public. He hopes to raise $200m (£145m) for the hospital, alongside a $100m (£72m) donation of his own.
Elon Musk hasn’t mentioned flying on this mission himself, although he has long articulated a plan to travel to Mars, plans that have been described as a dangerous delusion by Britain’s chief astrophysicist Lord Martin Rees.
Back in 2016, Musk outlined his vision of building a colony on Mars “in our lifetimes” – with the first rocket propelling humans to the Red Planet by 2025.
For many years the company used an image of the Martian surface being terraformed (turned Earth-like) in its promotional material. However, a NASA-sponsored study published in 2018 dismissed these plans as impossible with today’s technology.
Recently Musk has tweeted he believed it was “possible to make a self-sustaining city on Mars by 2050, if we start in five years” but as of yet, SpaceX has not planned any missions to the planet.
UK to join Indo-Pacific trade bloc in biggest trade deal since Brexit
The UK is set to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – known as CPTPP – in what the government says is its biggest trade deal since Brexit.
The CPTPP is a free trade agreement between 11 countries across the Indo-Pacific – namely Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The partnership sees the countries open up their markets to one another, reducing trade barriers and tariffs, with the hope of bolstering the economies of its members.
When it joins, the UK will become the first European country to enter the agreement, and the government claims it will lead to a £1.8bn boost to the economy “in the long run”.
The deal has been praised by a number of business groups, including the CBI, Standard Chartered and Pernod Ricard.
But other trade experts have warned it will not make up for the economic hit caused by leaving the trade bloc of the European Union.
Zero tariffs for cheese, cars, chocolate and gin
The UK began negotiations to join the bloc in September 2021 when Boris Johnson was in Downing Street.
The signatory countries of the CPTPP are home to 500 million people and the government claims after the UK joins, it will be worth 15% of global GDP.
Number 10 said as a result of becoming a member, more than 99% of goods exported from the UK to the list of countries would be eligible for zero tariffs, including cheese, cars, chocolate, machinery, gin and whisky.
And it said the services industry would benefit too, with “reduced red tape and greater access to growing Pacific markets”.
Commenting on the announcement, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the agreement “puts the UK at the centre of a dynamic and growing group of Pacific economies”.
He added: “We are at our heart an open and free-trading nation, and this deal demonstrates the real economic benefits of our post-Brexit freedoms.
“As part of CPTPP, the UK is now in a prime position in the global economy to seize opportunities for new jobs, growth and innovation.”
The final administrative and legal steps will now take place, before the UK formally signs up in 2023.
‘EU should be priority’
The announcement was welcomed by the interim director general of business group the CBI, Matthew Fell, who called it “a real milestone for the UK and for British industry”.
He added: “Not only does the agreement provide greater access to a group of fast growth economies representing 14% of global GDP and over 500 million consumers, but membership reinforces the UK’s commitment to building partnerships in an increasingly fragmented world.
“CPTPP countries and business need to work together to future-proof the rules-based trading system and stimulate growth with a focus on digital, services and resilient supply chains.”
However, while the Institute of Directors it was “vital the UK signs trade deals to restore our international reputation since Brexit”, it said “complete reorientation” to the Indo-Pacific would not solve “the very real problem that businesses currently face – namely that they have many more trade related challenges than they did six years ago”.
They added: “From our surveys, directors have told us that the EU-UK relationship is a priority issue the government needs to address in order to support business.
“UK companies still rely on the long established links they have with EU markets, which are directly on our doorstep and with whom they have closer historical ties.
“The Indo-Pacific strategy will open up important opportunities for UK businesses, but the government must not forfeit the significance of our relationship with the EU in order to do so.”
Donald Trump faces criminal charges over alleged hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels
Donald Trump has been indicted on criminal charges arising from an alleged hush money payment to an adult film actress.
A grand jury in New York voted to indict Trump over possible offences related to a $130,000 (£105,000) payment to Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
It was allegedly made in exchange for Daniels’ silence about an alleged sexual encounter she said she had with Trump a decade earlier.
He is the first former US president to face criminal charges in court, even as he makes a bid to retake the White House in 2024.
Trump, a Republican, said he was “completely innocent” and called the indictment “political persecution”, with his lawyers saying they will “vigorously fight” it.
Live updates: Prosecutors launch criminal case against Trump
The Manhattan district attorney’s investigation centred on accusations of money paid to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, whom Trump allegedly feared would go public with claims they had extramarital sexual encounters with him.
Trump, 76, has denied having affairs with either woman.
His former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said he co-ordinated with Trump on the payments to Daniels, real name Stephanie Clifford, and also to McDougal.
Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in 2018 related to the payments and served more than a year in prison.
Federal prosecutors said Cohen acted at Trump’s direction.
Trump said: “The Democrats have lied, cheated and stolen in their obsession with trying to ‘Get Trump,’ but now they’ve done the unthinkable – indicting a completely innocent person in an act of blatant election interference.”
“Never before in our nation’s history has this been done.”
He added: “I believe this witch-hunt will backfire massively on Joe Biden.”
Trump says investigations ‘straight out of Stalinist Russia horror show’
Who is Stormy Daniels?
How many investigations is former US president facing?
Trump was expected to surrender to authorities next week.
He has denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly attacked the investigation by district attorney Alvin Bragg.
His office has spent nearly five years investigating Trump and the grand jury has been hearing its evidence since January.
Trump son hits out at indictment
On Twitter, one of Trump’s sons, Eric, wrote: “This is third world prosecutorial misconduct. It is the opportunistic targeting of a political opponent in a campaign year.”
Amid speculation in recent weeks that the former American leader was due to be indicted, Trump urged his supporters to protest against the authorities if he was detained.
He published a long statement describing the investigation as a “political witch-hunt trying to take down the leading candidate, by far, in the Republican Party”.
“I did absolutely nothing wrong,” he said, before criticising a “corrupt, depraved and weaponised justice system”.
Other ongoing cases Trump faces include a Georgia election interference probe and two federal investigations into his role in the 6 January 2001 insurrection at the US Capitol.
Donald Trump indicted: Who is Stormy Daniels and what is former president accused of doing?
Donald Trump has been indicted by a grand jury in New York, making him the first ex-president to face criminal charges.
The case against him centres on a $130,000 (£105,000) payment made to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign.
Live updates – Prosecutors launch first ever criminal case against former president
What is Trump accused of doing?
Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, claims she had an affair with Mr Trump in 2006, which the former US president denies.
In 2016 when he was running for president, she offered to sell her story to the press.
Mr Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen was notified of her plans, resulting in a $130,000 (£105,000) payment being made to keep Ms Daniels quiet.
Once he was elected, Mr Trump reimbursed Mr Cohen by paying him more than double the original amount. He continued to deny the affair, however.
New York investigators have been looking into the former president’s finances for years – originally led by former District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.
But when he was replaced with Alvin Bragg in 2022, Mr Bragg decided to drop the grand jury investigation into claims the Trump empire fraudulently inflated its real estate value.
Instead he decided to focus on the hush money case last summer, impanelling a grand jury (one assembled in secret to determine whether there’s enough evidence to prosecute) in January.
Soon after Mr Cohen, who was jailed on several counts in 2018, was summoned by prosecutors.
According to court documents, Mr Trump falsely listed his former lawyer’s reimbursement as “legal services”.
What charges could Trump face?
It is not yet known what Mr Trump will be charged with.
But among the options for prosecutors is an accounting fraud charge over the payment made to Mr Cohen.
They could also decide to indict him on campaign fraud charges – as silencing Ms Daniels’s claims could have helped propel him to power.
Mr Trump has described the investigation as a politically motivated “witch hunt”.
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