Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson said Elon Musk — his space-race counterpart — visited him at 3 a.m. the morning of Branson’s spaceflight to wish him luck.
Branson, who boasts a net worth of about $7.7 billion, tweeted a picture of the two billionaire space tycoons together on Sunday, the morning of the flight.
Many observers were quick to point out that Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, as well as the world’s second richest man, was not wearing shoes in the photo.
Speaking at a press conference after the successful flight, Branson gave a little more context to the snap.
“It was great this morning to find Elon Musk in my kitchen at three o’clock, to come to wish us the best,” Branson said.
“I’d already been to bed and he still hadn’t gone to bed,” he added. “He’s an all-nighter and our time clocks are completely different. But so nice of him to come all this way to wish us well.”
Branson and Musk are rivals in the so-called billionaire space race, even though their companies have somewhat different goals.
Branson’s Virgin Galactic offers a pricey space tourism experience that brings customers to the edge of space for striking views and a few minutes in zero gravity before bringing them back down to earth.
Musk’s SpaceX develops much larger rockets that hope to one day bring humans and cargo to Mars. Musk has yet to say when he might ride on one of SpaceX’s rockets.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ space venture Blue Origin, which also hopes to provide a brief tourism experience to daring customers, is in more direct competition with Virgin Galactic.
Bezos announced last month that he will join Blue Origin’s first crewed flight to space next week, on July 20.
But on Sunday, Branson, 70, leap-frogged ahead of Bezos, becoming the first of the trio to make it to space.
Bezos wished his rival well Sunday morning, saying on Instagram, “Wishing you and the whole team a successful and safe flight tomorrow. Best of luck!”
Still, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have traded barbs in recent weeks as the two companies’ founders neared their launch dates.
Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith last week emphasized that his company’s rocket travels slightly higher than Virgin Galactic’s.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft passes a few kilometers above the internationally-recognized boundary of space, the so-called Karman Line, which stands at an altitude of 100 kilometers, or about 62 miles, above Earth’s mean sea level.
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spacecraft, on the other hand, launches from its homeport in New Mexico — dubbed Spaceport America — with the help of a carrier craft, before igniting its rocket and accelerating to three times the speed of sound.
It reaches an altitude of about 80 kilometers, or nearly 50 miles, where it spends a few minutes in microgravity, just below the Karman Line, and gives passengers a chance to enjoy the view.
By US standards, though, both crafts make it to space. The US Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration put the boundary of space lower, at an altitude of about 50 miles.
Shares of Virgin Galactic were up more than 8 percent to just over $53 Monday in premarket trading.