Leave it to Richard Branson to turn an hour-long suborbital flight into an entertainment event, complete with a webcast emceed by comedian Stephen Colbert and a musical performance by pop star Khalid.

Along with rocketing ahead of Jeff Bezos in the billionaire space race, the Virgin Galactic founder captured large swaths of the public’s attention with his inaugural trip on his company’s Unity 22 ship on Sunday. According to Thinknum data, mentions of Virgin Galactic by Facebook users shot up 18 percent, from 251,000 to 295,000, between Saturday and Monday morning. 

The company’s Twitter following has also been on a steep upward climb. On Saturday, the company had 392,000 followers on the platform. By Monday, that number had increased to 446,000 — a leap of 14 percent in 48 hours.

The Twitter following of Bezos' Blue Origin also got an ancillary bump from the Virgin Galactic flight, although the increase was not as pronounced. On Saturday, the company had 353,000 followers, according to Thinknum. By Monday, that amount had risen about three percent to 362,000.

Both Bezos, who is scheduled to take his first space jaunt later this month, and Branson are briefly venturing beyond Earth to kick off a new era of space tourism.

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin will soon provide space trips to wealthy thrill-seekers. Reservations on Virgin Galactic’s flights are expected to cost as much as $400,000 each in the future. Already 600 bookings have been sold for an average price of $250,000.

Blue Origin will already be taking a paying customer on its upcoming New Shepard flight. An anonymous donor agreed to fork over nearly $30 million to the company’s educational nonprofit for the chance to ride along.

Public interest surrounding Branson’s liftoff (and his safe return) provided momentum for Virgin Galactic to seek $500 million in equity financing on Monday. The company’s shares closed at $49.20 on Friday and slid down about 14 percent to $42.36 on Monday after it filed a notice of a stock offering with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

It will be interesting to see if Amazon founder Bezos, when he blasts off on July 20, will achieve a similar outcome.

UPDATE: Throughout July, Virgin Galactic's social media profile continued to climb. Facebook "likes" for the company shot up to 331,000 on July 25, up from 245,000 on July 1. 

By Aug. 24, the company's Twitter following had risen to 475,000. 

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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