Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson, 70, is set to leapfrog Blue Origin CEO Jeff Bezos to become the first billionaire in space when the British entrepreneur launches into space Sunday, nine days ahead of Bezos's first planned ascent.
Bezos had some well wishes for his fellow ultrawealthy aspiring astronaut ahead of the launch.
"Wishing you and the whole team a successful and safe flight tomorrow," Bezos wrote in an Instagram caption alongside a smiling picture of Branson. "Best of luck!"
Bezos originally announced in June that he, his brother Mark, female aerospace pioneer Wally Funk, and a $28 million auction winner would take off July 20 on Blue Origin's New Shepard space ship.
Then Branson announced on July 1 that he was going to space on July 12.
"I truly believe that space belongs to all of us," Branson said in announcing the launch. "After 17 years of research, engineering and innovation, the new commercial space industry is poised to open the universe to humankind and change the world for good."
Two pilots and three other mission specialists will be on board the aircraft, which is nicknamed Eve after Branson's late mother.
Virgin Galactic uses a unique air-launching system in which Eve will be carried to around 50,000 feet by a four-engine, dual-fuselage jet aircraft called WhiteKnightTwo, then released in midair.
Eve's engine will then ignite and climb toward space at three times the force of Earth's gravity.
Once Eve reaches an altitude of 55 miles, or nearly 300,000 feet, Branson and the crew will be able to observe Earth and the blackness of space through the spaceship's 17 windows.
Branson's main role in the mission is to evaluate the cabin environment, the weightless experience, and other elements of the trip that people will be paying for in the near future.
"Tapping into Sir Richard’s expertise and long history of creating amazing customer experiences will be invaluable as we work to open the wonder of space travel and create awe-inspiring journeys for our customers," Michael Colglazier, the CEO of Virgin Galactic, said earlier this month.