Jeff Bezos announced Monday that he will be going to space aboard Blue Origin’s maiden human voyage, making him the first of the major space-faring billionaires to take flight himself. 

“Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space,” Bezos wrote on Instagram. “On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.”

The term “space race” was once associated with the two Cold War superpowers, but today it’s more reflective of a battle between three billionaires — Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and Elon Musk — as their three companies race to be the first to land major government contracts and legitimize commercial space travel. Bezos’ announcement that he will take part in the July 20 voyage, the final seat for which is currently being auctioned off, is an aggressive display of confidence in Blue Origin’s technology. Elon Musk has not announced firm plans to travel aboard a SpaceX flight, but the billionaire founder has long mused about setting foot or even living on Mars, which SpaceX plans to send its first crewed mission to in 2026. And though Richard Branson told the Wall Street Journal last month that he will join Virgin Galactic test flights this summer, a date for the launch has not yet been made public.

The space travel companies have been in close competition both in terms of landing contracts and launching commercial space flights. In April, NASA awarded a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX to develop a new lunar lander — a decision which Blue Origin later protested, arguing that NASA’s decision to provide SpaceX with a singular contract was high-risk and reduced competition. Bezos’ announcement makes Blue Origin a perceived leader in commercial flight, but both SpaceX and Virgin Galactic have announced plans to begin voyages in the near future. By the end of 2020, Virgin Galactic had sold approximately 600 tickets to would-be passengers.

Blue Origin’s LinkedIn Headcount boasts approximately 3,400 employees, according to Thinknum data — less than half of SpaceX’s considerable 8,300 — making Bezos’ announcement a significant victory in commercial space flight for the smaller company. But despite the smaller size, Blue Origin’s growth far outpaces its competitors. Since 2018, the company’s headcount has grown 258% while SpaceX and Virgin Galactic have grown by 58% and 73% respectively.

Virgin Galactic trails far behind in terms of headcount with only 504 employees on LinkedIn, but its space-faring future isn’t too far away. The company conducted its third successful launch late last month, and says its on track to begin commercial spaceflight by 2022.

When it comes to which company has the most public attention, however, there’s a clear winner. Thanks to Elon Musk’s internet fame and frequent communications about ongoing projects, SpaceX towers above the rest in the sphere of public opinion with 17.1 million followers on Twitter, according to Thinknum data. Light years way, Virgin Galactic comes in second with 376,000 followers.

Blue Origin trails close behind with 340,000 followers, but is still the least popular of the three companies, perhaps because of Bezos’ lack of celebrity. However, Monday’s announcement has thrust it into public discourse and made it clear that the most popular company is not necessarily the one winning the race.

About the Data:

Thinknum tracks companies using the information they post online, jobs, social and web traffic, product sales, and app ratings, and creates data sets that measure factors like hiring, revenue, and foot traffic. Data sets may not be fully comprehensive (they only account for what is available on the web), but they can be used to gauge performance factors like staffing and sales.

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