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Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Imtiyaz Shaikh (Anadolu Agency), Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Jeff Bezos' flight into space generated more interest from the public than Richard Branson's, and both billionaires overshadowed their respective space companies.

Why it matters: Data shows an outsized public interest in the personalities at the center of the space trips, compared to the companies behind them — which could reinforce public suspicion that the ventures were partly vanity plays.

The big picture: Branson's launch happened first, and Virgin Galactic put together a slick livestream stuffed with celebrity cameos. But the world's richest man still commanded more attention a few days later.

  • Bezos' launch-day Google searches were 38% higher than Branson's and generated 19% more mentions on social media, according to data from Keyhole.
  • There were nearly twice as many stories written about Bezos around his launch compared to Branson nine days earlier, according to NewsWhip data.

By the numbers: Branson and Bezos both put themselves at the center of commercial space tourism this month, and the moguls themselves — not their space companies — held most of the public's attention.

  • For Tuesday's event, Google searches about Jeff Bezos were nearly twice as high as searches for Blue Origin, according to Google Trends.
  • Interest in Virgin Galactic was a little more even — there were 35% more searches for Richard Branson than his company.
  • Stories published online about Blue Origin that did not highlight Bezos generated 2.5x less engagement on average than those that did, according to exclusive data from NewsWhip.
  • Virgin Galactic stories not centered on Richard Branson got nearly half the engagement as those that were.

Between the lines: Famous billionaires may bring in more attention, but much of that reaction — particularly to Bezos — was scornful.

  • Bezos' comments that Amazon employees and customers "paid for all of this," and the ensuing backlash, were among the launch-related stories with the most social interactions, according to NewsWhip data.
  • Another top headline: "Jeff Bezos Takes Spaceflight. 165k People Sign Petition To Keep Him There."

Go deeper

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Aug 31, 2021 - Science

A mission to space like no other

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The launch next month of the first all-civilian mission to orbit is an ambitious test for a burgeoning space industry's futuristic dream of sending many more ordinary people to space in the next few years.

Why it matters: Companies and nations envision millions of people living and working in space without having to become professional, government-backed astronauts. Those hopes are riding on SpaceX's next crewed mission, called Inspiration4.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Sep 14, 2021 - Science

Wrestling with the risks of private missions to space

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The all-civilian Inspiration4 crew, launching to orbit this week, will force the space industry to contend with just how much risk ordinary people are willing to take on in order to build humanity's future in space.

Why it matters: The private space industry's goal of building an economy in space hinges on sending more people to orbit in the near future. But spaceflight is still an incredibly risky endeavor and it will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future.

Miriam Kramer, author of Space
Sep 14, 2021 - Science

Inspiration4 launch: What the crew will do in space

Clockwise from left: Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux and Chris Sembroski. Photo: Inspiration4/John Kraus

When the Inspiration4 crew lives in space for three days, they'll do more than just sightseeing. The crew members also hope to perform experiments and fly a variety of sentimental items with them in space.

The big picture: This mission is like none that have flown before, but the crew is still planning to draw on the experiences of previous professional crews to help advance space science and attract the public to their cause.