'We're talking about months not years – so it's close. There are exciting times ahead,' says billionaire entrepreneur
The Virgin founder is taking part in demanding centrifuge training which recreates the pressures the human body undergoes during space flight ( PA )

Sir Richard Branson has revealed he is training to become an astronaut, saying he expects to be launched into space within months.

The Virgin boss is trying to get Virgin Galactic – the commercial space travel company he founded – off the ground, and is eager to be one of the first space tourists.

“We’re talking about months not years – so it’s close. There are exciting times ahead,” the 67-year-old billionaire told BBC Radio 4’s You And Yours, to be broadcast on Monday.

“I’m going for astronaut training, I’m going for fitness training, centrifuge and other training so that my body will hopefully cope well when I go to space.”

Sir Richard, tech titan Elon Musk and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos are fronting the charge in commercial space travel as they race to become the first to catapult tourists into space.

While Sir Richard believes Musk is “doing fantastically well” managing to transport cargo into space and building bigger and bigger rockets, he suggests the real struggle is between the Virgin boss and Mr Bezos.

“I think we’re both [Sir Richard and Mr Bezos] neck and neck as to who will put people into space first. Ultimately we have to do it safely. It’s more a race with ourselves to make sure we have the craft that are safe to put people up there.”

The entrepreneur is keen to be one of those first space tourists.

He said his astronaut training had gone well so far, revealing he has managed to build his fitness up by playing tennis four times a day.

“Instead of doing one set of tennis every morning and every evening I’m doing two sets. I’m going kiting and biking, doing whatever it takes to make me as fit as possible.”

The Virgin founder is also taking part in demanding centrifuge training, which recreates the pressures the human body undergoes during space flight.

All astronauts are forced to go through G-force training, which mimics the experience of take-off and travel through the Earth’s atmosphere.

Sir Richard added: “If you’re going to really enjoy the experience, the fitter you can be the better”.

Earlier this year Virgin Galactic accomplished a supersonic test flight of its SpaceShipTwo passenger rocket ship.

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The stars of the new space age are instead a group of billionaire entrepreneurs, led by SpaceX’s Elon Musk and Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson, who value technology over bravery, algorithms over instinct, and whose rockets and spacecraft may one day turn ordinary people into astronauts.
Richard Branson has long held ambitions to send tourists into space. The ticket price? $250,000 ( Getty )

 

The journey to outer space for American astronauts for the past seven years has begun at a Soviet-era launch site in Kazakhstan.

There, they pay homage to Russian cosmonauts and graciously participate in the rituals of their hosts, even the tradition of urinating on the right rear tyre of the bus that ferries them to the rocket.

The landscape is barren and desiccated, resembling the moon or some distant celestial body, a reminder that the astronauts are a long way from Cape Canaveral. 

Now, human space flight is returning to the place where the American Space Age was born.

As soon as this year, Nasa expects to end its reliance on Russia and launch American pilots from US soil for the first time since the final shuttle mission in 2011. 

But this time, the astronauts will fly on rockets unlike any Nasa has ever seen – built and operated by companies trying to turn space flight into a sustainable business. 

These first flights will be the fruits of $6.8bn (£5.1bn) worth of contracts that Nasa awarded to Boeing and SpaceX and mark a fundamental shift in America’s human space programme – outsourcing access to Earth’s orbit to private sector companies, some of which hope to eventually bring tourists to space.

Those chosen by Nasa for its upcoming missions are a quartet of former military pilots and Nasa veterans who combined have spent more than a year in space over eight flights. They were all carefully selected not just to fly to the International Space Station but to help reinvigorate Nasa’s often-overlooked human space flight programme.

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