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Richard Branson went to space on Sunday. When’s it your turn?

Space tourism can cost anywhere from $20 million to $50 million, but soon it could cost closer to $20,000 to be able to yell "I'm an astronaut!" with confidence.

Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson in a spacewear system

Virgin Galactic Founder Sir Richard Branson demonstrates a spacewear system, designed for Virgin Galactic astronauts.

Photo: Don Emmert/AFP via Getty

The time has come. Richard Branson is the first billionaire founder of a space company to be shipped off to suborbital space on Sunday on a ship he helped build. The trip on the VSS Unity will last around 90 minutes, and he'll be bringing three colleagues with him. Branson's main duty on the trip: to figure out how to make the trip even more fun for the people who go after him.

And people will, indeed, go after him. Virgin Galactic has already sold around 600 tickets for similar flights, and plans to send at least 400 people per year to space starting in 2022.

But though Branson might be the first "billionaire founder of a space company" to go to space, he's certainly not the first billionaire to do some orbital touring. Here's a brief timeline of the people who traveled to space before him, and when you, too, might be able to join the 60-mile-high (and beyond!) club.

2001: A literal space odyssey

If you were a billionaire in the early aughts and wanted to go to space, you called Virginia-based Space Adventures. The company partnered with Russia's Federal Space Agency to send people on the Soyuz spacecraft for trips to the International Space Station.

In April 2001, Dennis Tito made history as the first non-astronaut to go into orbit, paying a reported $20 million for the eight-day trip. The former Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer was 60 when left the earth, and his trip wasn't without some controversy: Space agencies from Europe, Canada and Japan said that Tito shouldn't go, as he didn't have sufficient training. And though NASA said it didn't have a problem with commercial space flight, it also didn't think Tito had the right training (Tito himself said he thinks that age played a factor in their objections to his trip).

But up he went, and paved the way for those who came after him.

He was followed by:

  • Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth in 2002 (10 days, $20 million);
  • Sensors Unlimited co-founder Gregory Olsen in 2005 (10 days, $20 million);
  • Co-founder and CEO of Telecom Technologies Anousheh Ansari in 2006 (10 days, $20 million);
  • Video game developer (and son of an astronaut) Richard Garriott in 2008 (12 days, $30 million);
  • Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberté became the first Canadian space tourist in 2009 (12 days, $35 million);
  • and Charles Simonyi, the father of the Microsoft Office suite and the only private citizen to go twice. (10 days, $20 million in 2007; 14 days, $35 million in 2009).

Space travel today and beyond

Today there are four companies that want to take people to space: Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Boeing. A fifth, Orion Span, planned to send travelers to stay at a space hotel but shut down in March.

In 2019, NASA itself said it plans to welcome tourists to the ISS, using both Boeing and SpaceX ships. But those trips would be pretty costly: $35,000 a night to stay on the ISS, and $50 million for the trip there and back. They're planning to start sending people next year.

Both Virgin and Blue Origin will compete in the suborbital race to space. Virgin Galactic is planning to charge each space hopeful around $250,000 per flight, and celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber have shown interest. Blue Origin hasn't yet announced ticket prices or timelines, but Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, Wally Funk and the winner of an auction (who paid around $28 million) will fly up July 20.

SpaceX is the only private company planning to send people into orbit, and the only company with actual tickets booked, with one flight leaving as soon as September. Tickets for those flights will cost a cool $55 million.

So when can you go to space?

The current spaceflights are particularly expensive because there aren't many of them, said Jordan Bimm, a space historian at the University of Chicago and a fellow at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum. There aren't a ton of seats on the actual spacecraft, and the only people filling them are billionaires, friends of billionaires and professional astronauts who need to manage the flight, he said.

"Right now those are the only ways people can go to space, and people like you and me just do not have a pathway at this moment," he said. "That's what's holding us back."

In the next decade or so, Bimm said, the price and popularity of traveling to space could compare to a trip to Antarctica, which starts at about $20,000. He said if and when space companies "demonstrate repeat reliability and flawless execution," the number of available flights to space could increase and the price could go down a tad (but it would still be a pretty penny).

He added that space companies will try to profit off people just wanting to say "I went to space!" as incentives to sell the trip. The trips won't be long, if only a few minutes, but space tourists can technically still call themselves astronauts.

"It's sort of like dipping your toe in the ocean and then saying you swam in the ocean," he said. "It's a very, very brief visit. And I think what these space companies are doing is capitalizing off of this misunderstanding."

Still, you get your astronaut wings, and you can't just buy those. Not even with $50 million.

Protocol | Fintech

Amazon wants a crypto play. Its history in payments is not encouraging.

It missed chances to be PayPal, Square and Stripe — so is this its chance to miss being Coinbase, too?

Amazon wants to be a crypto player.

Image: NurPhoto/Getty Images

The news that Amazon was hiring a lead for a new digital currency and blockchain initiative sent the price of bitcoin soaring. But there's another way to look at the news that's less bullish on bitcoin and bearish on Amazon: 13 years after Satoshi Nakamoto's whitepaper appeared on the internet, Amazon is just discovering cryptocurrency?

That may be a bit unkind, but the truth is sometimes unkind. And the reality is that Amazon has a long history of stumbles and missed opportunities in payments, which goes back more than two decades to the company's purchase of internet payments startup Accept.com.

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Owen Thomas

Owen Thomas is a senior editor at Protocol overseeing venture capital and financial technology coverage. He was previously business editor at the San Francisco Chronicle and before that editor-in-chief at ReadWrite, a technology news site. You're probably going to remind him that he was managing editor at Valleywag, Gawker Media's Silicon Valley gossip rag. He lives in San Francisco with his husband and Ramona the Love Terrier, whom you should follow on Instagram.

Over the last year, financial institutions have experienced unprecedented demand from their customers for exposure to cryptocurrency, and we've seen an inflow of institutional dollars driving bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to record prices. Some banks have already launched cryptocurrency programs, but many more are evaluating the market.

That's why we've created the Crypto Maturity Model: an iterative roadmap for cryptocurrency product rollout, enabling financial institutions to evaluate market opportunities while addressing compliance requirements.

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Caitlin Barnett, Chainanalysis
Caitlin’s legal and compliance experience encompasses both cryptocurrency and traditional finance. As Director of Regulation and Compliance at Chainalysis, she helps leading financial institutions strategize and build compliance programs in order to adopt cryptocurrencies and offer new products to their customers. In addition, Caitlin helps facilitate dialogue with regulators and the industry on key policy issues within the cryptocurrency industry.
Protocol | Enterprise

How Google Cloud plans to kill its ‘Killed By Google’ reputation

Under the new Google Enterprise APIs policy, the company is making a promise that its services will remain available and stable far into the future.

Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian has promised to make the company more customer-friendly.

Photo: Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images 2019

Google Cloud issued a promise Monday to current and potential customers that it's safe to build a business around its core technologies, another step in its transformation from an engineering playground to a true enterprise tech vendor.

Starting Monday, Google will designate a subset of APIs across the company as Google Enterprise APIs, including APIs from Google Cloud, Google Workspace and Google Maps. APIs selected for this category — which will include "a majority" of Google Cloud APIs according to Kripa Krishnan, vice president at Google Cloud — will be subject to strict guidelines regarding any changes that could affect customer software built around those APIs.

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Tom Krazit

Tom Krazit ( @tomkrazit) is Protocol's enterprise editor, covering cloud computing and enterprise technology out of the Pacific Northwest. He has written and edited stories about the technology industry for almost two decades for publications such as IDG, CNET, paidContent, and GeekWire, and served as executive editor of Gigaom and Structure.

Amazon job opening points to plan to accept crypto payments

The news sparked a rally in the values of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

Amazon may be planning to let customers pay for orders with cryptocurrencies.

Photo: David Ryder/Getty Images

Amazon is looking to hire a digital currency and blockchain expert suggesting a plan to let customers accept cryptocurrencies as payments.

The tech giant's job opening says Amazon is looking for "an experienced product leader" to help develop the company's "digital currency and blockchain strategy and roadmap" Amazon is looking for product leader with expertise in blockchain, distributed ledger, central bank digital currencies and cryptocurrency.

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Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

Protocol | Policy

Big Tech tried to redefine terrorism online. It got messy fast.

The Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism announced a series of narrow steps it's taking that underscore just how fraught the job of classifying terror online really is.

Erin Saltman is GIFCT's director of programming.

Photo: Paul Morigi/Flickr

A little over a month after the Jan. 6 riot, the tech industry's leading anti-terrorism alliance — a group founded by Facebook, YouTube, Microsoft and Twitter — announced it was seeking ideas for how it could expand its definition of terrorism, which had for years been more or less synonymous with Islamic terrorism. The group, called the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism or GIFCT, had been considering such a shift for at least a year, but the rising threat of domestic extremism, punctuated by the Capitol uprising, made it all the more clear something needed to change.

But after months of interviewing member companies, months of considering academic proposals and months spent mulling the impact of tech platforms on this and other violent events around the world, the group's policies have barely budged. On Monday, in a 177-page report, GIFCT released the first details of its plan, and, well, a radical rethinking of online extremism it is not. Instead, the report lays out a series of narrow steps that underscore just how fraught the job of classifying terror online really is.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

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