Richard Branson, the British billionaire, is all set to make his highly anticipated debut spaceflight on Sunday amid much fanfare over what has been dubbed “the billionaire space race”. In a few hours, Branson will be decked aboard his company Virgin Galactic’s passenger rocket plane, the VSS Unity, along with five others to write a new chapter in space history.
Branson’s upcoming spaceflight has generated much excitement in India, but for a slightly different reason. It has come to light that the space enthusiast shares a bit of heritage with India.
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Two years ago, Branson had revealed his ties with India at a press conference in Mumbai. He was in the city for the launch of his airline Virgin Atlantic’s flight from Mumbai to London when he said that some of his ancestors had been from India.
“I knew that I had past generations living in India, but haven’t realised how strong our connections were,” Branson had told reporters in December 2019.
The billionaire entrepreneur said a few of his ancestors were found to be of Indian descent after conducting a DNA test. More specifically, a part of his ancestral origins is from Tamil Nadu’s Cuddalore district, dating as far back as 1793, Branson added.
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One of Branson’s great grandfathers was married to an Indian named Aria, a ‘saliva test’ had revealed. “So, it turned out that from 1793, we had four generations living here in Cuddalore and one of my great, great, great grandmothers was an Indian named Aria who was married to one of my great, great, great grandfathers,” Branson said.
“Every time I meet an Indian, I say we might be relatives,” he added.
The maverick billionaire, who dabbles in many businesses — one of which is space tourism, will be making his debut journey to the frontiers of the cosmos on Sunday. Indian-origin aeronautical engineer Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research operations at Virgin Galactic, will operate the experiment on the “Unity 22” flight on behalf of co-investigators from the University of Florida.
If all goes according to plan, the trip will give Branson the bragging rights over his rivals Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, all of whom have shown keen interest in space and commercial flights.