HOUSTON — When the wheels of VSS Unity touched down to a cheering crowd, Sir Richard Branson popped celebratory champagne and he wrapped up his remarks by welcoming "the dawn of a new space age."
The director of Rice University’s Space Institute, Dr. David Alexander, has been keeping tabs on what makes headlines as the “billionaire space race” between Branson and Jeff Bezos. Though, he doesn't see it as a race.
"I see it as a range," says Alexander. "These two happened to be in the news at the moment, but they’re commercial companies developing capabilities that hopefully will be used going forward for the benefit of humanity and society."
Along with the logistics of it all, Branson and Bezos are providing something else: inspiration.
"To the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you can do," Branson said as his Virgin Galactic space ship crossed the threshold into space.
"I think that's really exciting," Alexander says. "They're actually showing people that it can be done."
NASA, he explains, made space exploration feel almost routine. This back-and-forth between Branson and Bezos ignites a new public interest in what Alexander has always loved.
"Hopefully what it does is it inspires and excites more people to think about the value and the benefit of having access to space," he says. "That's s just great to see from my perspective."
Just like so many of us, Alexander will be watching next Tuesday when Bezos hops on board the New Shepard and attempts to go even further into space than Branson did.