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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:

Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX have all designed their own spacecraft
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Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and SpaceX have all designed their own spacecraft
How far can the billionaires' rockets go?
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How far can the billionaires’ rockets go?

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.

 Sir Richard Branson
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Sir Richard Branson is the billionaire owner of Virgin Galactic

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.

VSS Unity starts its engines after release from its mothership,
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VSS Unity technically will not actually enter space

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.


Jeff Bezos. Pic: AP
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Jeff Bezos is the billionaire owner of Blue Origin. Pic: AP

Jeffrey Bezos

  • 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.

Jeff Bezos and Wally Funk. Pic: Blue Origin/AP
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Jeff Bezos invited Wally Funk to join his spaceflight. Pic: Blue Origin/AP

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.


Elon Musk smiles as the audience laugh at his jokes as he hosts Saturday Night Live. Pic:NBC/YouTube
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Elon Musk is the billionaire owner of SpaceX. Pic:NBC/YouTube

Elon Musk

  • 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.

SpaceX's images of the terraforming of Mars. Pic: SpaceX
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SpaceX’s images of the terraforming of Mars. Pic: SpaceX

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.

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Donald Sutherland, Hunger Games and Kelly’s Heroes actor, dies

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Donald Sutherland, Hunger Games and Kelly's Heroes actor, dies

Donald Sutherland, who appeared in films including The Hunger Games and Kelly’s Heroes, has died at the age of 88.

His agency, CAA, said he died in Miami “after a long illness”.

The Canadian actor won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his performance in the mini-series Citizen X.

In 2017, he received an honorary Oscar.

His son, fellow actor Kiefer Sutherland, said “with a heavy heart” that his father had “passed away”.

“I personally think [he was] one of the most important actors in the history of film,” Kiefer Sutherland posted on X, adding that he was “never daunted by a role – good, bad or ugly”.

“He loved what he did and did what he loved, and one can never ask for more than that. A life well lived.”

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Sutherland with his son Kiefer. Pic: Reuters
Image:
Sutherland with his son Kiefer. Pic: Reuters

In the Hunger Games franchise, Donald Sutherland played President Snow alongside Jennifer Lawrence.

In Kelly’s Heroes he starred alongside Telly Savalas and Clint Eastwood as Sergeant Oddball – on a mission to steal gold from the Nazis.

“I love to work – I passionately love to work,” Sutherland told US talk show host Charlie Rose in 1998.

“I love to feel my hand fit into the glove of some other character. I feel a huge freedom – time stops for me. I’m not as crazy as I used to be, but I’m still a little crazy.”

Sutherland with Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence in 2015. Pic: AP
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Sutherland with Hunger Games star Jennifer Lawrence in 2015. Pic: AP

His “breakthrough performances” were in 1967 movie The Dirty Dozen and MASH, CAA said.

He also took parts in Robert Redford’s Ordinary People and Oliver Stone’s JFK.

He is survived by his wife Francine Racette, sons Roeg, Rossif, Angus, and Kiefer, daughter Rachel, and four grandchildren.

“A private celebration of his life will be held by the family,” CAA said.

Born in St John, New Brunswick, on the east coast of Canada in July 1935, he was the son of a salesman and a mathematics teacher.

He started university in Toronto as an engineering student but switched to English and started acting in college productions.

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Serbia threaten to pull out of Euro 2024 over Croatia and Albania chants

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Serbia threaten to pull out of Euro 2024 over Croatia and Albania chants

Serbia have threatened to pull its football team out of Euro 2024 if UEFA doesn’t punish Croatia and Albania for alleged hateful chants.

Jovan Surbatovic, general secretary of the Serbian football association, said they have made a formal complaint about “kill, kill, kill the Serb” chants during the 2-2 draw between Croatia and Albania on Wednesday.

He warned the team could pull out entirely if the European football governing body UEFA doesn’t act on their complaint.

“What happened is scandalous and we will ask UEFA for sanctions, even if it means not continuing the competition,” Mr Surbatovic said, according to Serbian broadcaster PTC.

“If UEFA doesn’t punish them, we will think about how to proceed.”

Serbia face Slovenia in Group C on Thursday, having lost to England 1-0 on Sunday.

England's Jude Bellingham in action with Serbia's Nikola Milenkovic. Pic: Reuters
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England’s Jude Bellingham in action with Serbia’s Nikola Milenkovic. Pic: Reuters

The Serbian FA was charged by UEFA for incidents during that game.

Supporters displayed a banner that “transmitted a provocative message unfit for a sports event” and threw objects inside the stadium, according to UEFA.

That charge came after the Kosovo Football Federation complained about “Serbian fans displaying political, chauvinistic, and racist messages against Kosovo”.

Read more:
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Reuters news agency reported a group of Serbia fans chanted “Kosovo is the heart of Serbia” in central Munich’s Marienplatz on Thursday, ahead of their team’s game against Slovenia.

“We were punished for isolated cases and our fans behaved much better than the others,” Mr Surbatovic said.

“One fan was punished for racist insults and we don’t want it to be attributed to others. We Serbs are gentlemen and we have an open heart.”

UEFA has been approached for comment.

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Jay Slater: Photographs show Tenerife property where missing British teenager was last seen

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Jay Slater: Photographs show Tenerife property where missing British teenager was last seen

Photographs show the Tenerife property where British teenager Jay Slater is believed to have been last seen before he went missing on Monday.

A Snapchat video shared by the 19-year-old on Sunday night appears to show the property he visited in the northwestern mountain village of Masca after attending the NRG music festival.

Mr Slater, from Oswaldtwistle near Blackburn in Lancashire, was holidaying with friends on the island before he went missing.

The property where Mr Slater is believed to have been last seen
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The property where Jay Slater is believed to have been last seen

His friend Lucy Law told Wednesday’s UK Tonight programme on Sky News that she spoke to Mr Slater on the phone at about 8.15am local time on Monday.

During the short phone call, he told her he had missed a bus trying to get back to his holiday accommodation so was attempting to walk instead – a journey that would take 11 hours.

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Missing British teen’s friend speaks to Sky News

She said he told her he had “cut his leg on a cactus“, didn’t know where he was and his mobile phone battery was down to 1%.

Ms Law also said Mr Slater told her he “needed a drink”.

He was able to send her his last live location which showed as the Rural de Teno Park – a mountainous area popular with hikers – before his phone cut out.

Ms Law said Mr Slater, an apprentice bricklayer, is “not a stupid boy” and would have flagged down any passing car or spoken to a passerby.

Soon after Mr Slater went missing, an American woman offered to drive Ms Law up into the mountains.

There was “literally no sign of him anywhere”, she said. “We drove around all day.”

Ms Law added that they “managed to find the house” where Mr Slater was last seen.

She continued: “I knocked on the door and there were two people there.”

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The property where Jay Slater is believed to have been last seen

They told Ms Law that Mr Slater had gone out for a cigarette before going back in and saying he wanted to go home.

“They told me he’d spoken to the next door neighbours and they’d told him there was a bus every 10 minutes back down to Los Cristianos.

“The bus stop was right next to the house. So obviously if he’d gone to get the bus he wouldn’t have got lost because it [the stop] was visible from the front door.”

Tenerife map for Jay Slater story
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Jay Slater’s phone’s last live location was Rural de Teno Park. The search has also focused on Los Cristianos

The teenager was wearing a T-shirt and shorts and was without food and water, she added.

“It’s very warm in the day and very cold at night,” Ms Law said.

“So in the day he’s going to be really warm without a drink, and then at night he’s going to be very cold without any suitable clothing.”

Read more:
Today is a ‘key day’ in search – local journalist says
Former Coronation Street star prays for his safe return

Jay Slater. Pic: Lucy Law
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Pic: Lucy Law

Pic: Reuters
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A rescue team searches the Masca ravine. Pic: Reuters

Earlier, she told the Manchester Evening News someone Mr Slater had met on the night out had driven him back to their apartment in a hire car without him realising how far away it was.

“He’s ended up out in the middle of nowhere. Jay was obviously thinking he would be able to get home from there,” she told the newspaper.

‘A living nightmare’

Mr Slater’s mother Debbie Duncan, who flew to the island and has joined mountain rescuers and the local civil guard in the search for her son, has called his disappearance “an absolute living nightmare”.

Search teams refocused their efforts on Thursday in the north of Tenerife, where Rural de Teno Park is located, after discounting a potential lead in the south of the island, the BBC reported.

Meanwhile, a Tenerife-based journalist said today is a “key day” in the search for Mr Slater.

Clio O’Flynn told Sky News: “If he’s taken shelter, the hope is he’s waiting for help to come along,”

She added: “The problem will be ‘does he have a phone signal? Will people be able to locate him? Can he hear their cries?'”

Police officers search for a missing  Masca ravine on the island of Tenerife.
Pic: Reuters
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Police officers search the Masca ravine. Pic: Reuters

Ms O’Flynn said the search had been “very intense” with teams using all the resources at their disposal, including “mountain specialists, search dogs, drones and helicopters” and are “taking suggestions from his family, so it’s very coordinated”.

The area where he is believed to have gone missing is a “dry, arid, part of the island”, and, given its volcanic origins, has “ravines and gullies”, Ms O’Flynn said.

She warned there are “no lakes, rivers or streams, so it would be quite hard for him to access fresh water”.

Temperatures have been about 26C (79F), she said, but warned that “if you’re lost, 25C is very hot”.

A UK Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are supporting the family of a British man who has been reported missing in Spain and are in contact with the local authorities.”

The Spanish Civil Guard told UK media they are “doing everything possible” to find Mr Slater.

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