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Richard Branson goes inside the ship taking him to space, addresses Bezos rivalry rumors

The Virgin Galactic founder claimed he is not in a space race with fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos, who is launching into suborbital space 9 days after Branson.
/ Source: TODAY

Sir Richard Branson provided an exclusive look on Tuesday at the ship that will be sending him to space next week, while also claiming that he is not in a space race with fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos.

The 70-year-old founder of Virgin Galactic showed off the company's VSS Unity spacecraft to Tom Costello on TODAY from its spaceport in the remote desert town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

Branson announced last week that the ship will fly on July 11, which came after Bezos had announced that he would fly to space on July 20 in a ship produced by his own space company, Blue Origin. Branson insisted that he is not in competition with the Amazon founder despite beating him into space by nine days.

"I know nobody will believe me when I say it, but honestly, there isn't," he told Costello.

He added that he thinks there is room for multiple space tourism companies as he showed off the Unity spacecraft that is scheduled to blast off on Sunday.

"I always envisioned as a kid that a spaceship should look like this," Branson said. "I just thought that's how you should fly to space."

Branson will be joined by Virgin Galactic chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, lead operations engineer Colin Bennett, government affairs vice president Sirisha Bandla and pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci on the mission.

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"And you know, at that moment, we will have become astronauts," he said. "I will pinch myself. And pinch myself again and again. I can't wait."

It's a trip that has been 17 years in the making, including years of redesigns and safety delays after a 2014 tragedy in which the company's SpaceShipTwo aircraft broke up in mid-air over the Mojave Desert during a test flight. The explosion killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury and seriously injured the pilot, Peter Siebold, who parachuted to the ground.

Virgin Galactic, which was formed in 2004 to create a space tourism business, is now targeting early next year to begin commercially flying civilians 50 miles high to the edge of space to experience weightlessness and get the view of a lifetime.

The company has already gotten approval by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly passengers on future commercial flights to suborbital space.

More than 700 people have signed up, including Tom Hanks, Justin Bieber, and Lady Gaga, paying $250,000 each for a trip to space, Costello reported.

"It's going to be a ride," Branson said.