“Hopefully I’ll be able to go up on one of his spaceships one day, and he’ll be able to go up on one of ours,” Branson told CNBC on Tuesday.
Branson achieved his dream of reaching space in July 2021, nearly two decades after he founded Virgin Galactic. The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday honored the first-time astronauts of Virgin Galactic’s Unity 22 flight crew – Branson, Sirisha Bandla and Colin Bennett – with wings, recognizing them for crossing the 80 kilometer (50 mile) altitude mark that the U.S. recognizes as the boundary to space.
Branson noted that he and Musk are “good friends,” and that his fellow billionaire bought a Virgin Galactic ticket “a long time ago.” SpaceX began flying astronauts to orbit in 2020, and has launched 18 people to space to date.
Branson’s role in Virgin Galactic’s future
Shares of Virgin Galactic are down nearly 33% so far this year.
Virgin Galactic is in the midst of a lengthy refurbishment process of its spacecraft VSS Unity and carrier aircraft VMS Eve. The company stood down in October from completing its test flight campaign and delayed its commercial space tourism service to the fourth quarter of this year. In February, the company said the refurbishment remains on schedule and is set to be complete in the third quarter.
In the meantime, Virgin Galactic has made changes to its structure and brand under CEO Michael Colglazier, who was appointed in July 2020. Earlier this year, now-former-chairman Chamath Palihapitiya stepped down from Virgin Galactic’s board of directors, and the company revealed a rebranding of its logo, replacing the iris of Branson with a purple outline of its spacecraft.
Additionally, Branson has decreased his ownership of Virgin Galactic in four bulk stock sales since the company went public, although he remains the largest single shareholder through The Virgin Group.
Branson said he is done with “the sort of heavy-lifting side of my job” for Virgin Galactic. But he also pledged that he will “always be involved” with the company.
“I had lunch with Michael [Colglazier] today and we had a long list of things that I’m planning to do … so it doesn’t look like I’m ducking out of here,” Branson said. “I’ll certainly help where I can.”