The new space race – between billionaires, not between Cold War-era superpowers – turned a corner on Sunday. Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin Group, took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico as a passenger in his Virgin Galactic Unity VS22 spacecraft. The craft and its crew flew to the limits of space, at a height of 86 km above the Earth, then descended after experiencing a few brief but tantalizing moments of weightlessness.
Was it in space? Nah, not really. This marker is commonly defined as the Kármán Line – 100 km above Earth – but Branson’s flight was a shot through the arcs of other rich obscene men who have finished plundering Earth and now want to conquer. space.
Other participants in this particular cock measuring competition include:
- Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and richest man in the world, who plans to be a passenger of his Blue Origin spacecraft
- Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and father of a child named X Æ A-12, whose course is on Mars and whose SpaceX program is contracted by NASA
- Yuri Milner, a Russian-Israeli billionaire who co-founded Project Breakthrough Starshot with Stephen Hawking and social media big bad Mark Zuckerberg.
We’re not SpaceTips.com, so you might be wondering why I’m writing this. A wonderful question that I will be happy to answer, and thank you.
The reason is as follows: Richard Branson drove his bike to the launch (allegedly), then it was discovered that he had not driven his bike at all at the launch. This in turn escalated into a minor media dispute over the integrity of Virgin Galactic for making the portrayal, with Trek Bicycles looping in the controversy as the supplier of the bike that was used in the stunt.
Exhibit A: The video
The offending video, linked at the top, shows Branson, 70, riding through the New Mexico wilderness, towards the rounded shape of Spaceport America, near the oddly named town of Truth or Consequences. The hills around it have that gorgeous bluish haze that comes with the dawn of a new day or, say, the burning of thousands of gallons of fuel to send a billionaire’s trinket skyward.
Branson pedals lazily through the center of a desolate road, flanked by a pair of white Land Rovers; a scenic composition which finds its echoes in the most beautiful work of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov.
Branson arrives at the spaceport. A tall, handsome man in a space tracksuit grabs Branson’s bike by the gallows as he dismounts his horse and receives a wet helmet.
Branson then happily walks over to his spaceflight mates, giving them a big group hug, as one says “let’s go to space” and another says “you’re late, get dressed”.
After the theft, Branson apparently triumphantly told onlookers, “It’s so awesome to come by bike, through this beautiful New Mexico countryside.”
Yesterday, @richardbranson drove his custom Trek Domane to the launch of the VSS Unity 22 spaceflight.
The custom Domane Unity 22 Project One Ultimate was designed exclusively for this space flight, resembling the design of the VSS Unity space plane. pic.twitter.com/V7t8EQA7pO
– Trek bike (@TrekBikes) July 12, 2021
It’s an exciting intersection of ‘bike’ and ‘rich men blowing themselves up in space’. But there was a problem.
A Virgin Galactic spokesperson conceded, when asked by Reuters (God knows why they were asking) that they had rigged the ride – it was on the Monday before the launch, and Branson had not cycled on it at all. Sunday.
“The footage of Sir Richard Branson shown at the event on Sunday was pre-recorded and misidentified on the show,” the spokesperson conceded. “We regret the error and any confusion it may have caused.”
Exhibit B: The bike
Mainstream media have speculated on the implications of this creative scam on Virgin’s “cross-promotion deal” with Trek, which provided a custom Domane road bike for launch. These media were unable to obtain a statement from the Wisconsin-based bicycle brand.
Fortunately, CyclingTips was. A representative from Trek explained that “Sir Richard Branson is an avid cyclist and we are proud that he is a fan of our bikes. We were delighted to hear that Sir Richard bicycles often at Spaceport and we were happy to provide him with a bike last week. “
Trek did not answer specific questions about the genesis of the relationship between Virgin Galactic and Trek; whether Branson had any personal involvement in the choice of the model or the aesthetics of the ridden bike; the specificities of the “cross-promotional” partnership; and whether they felt personally misled by the mess of whether or not Richard Branson rode a bike on Sunday or Monday.
Fair enough. I felt like a chaotic shit shaker just asking them.
Trek did send in some photos of the bike Richard Branson didn’t drive to launch, however.
You’re probably here because you love bikes, so here are some photos of a billionaire’s bike: the very bike that was briefly at the center of the global discourse on truth or consequences, and truth and consequences.