Wiklevoss Twins Sign Up for SpaceShipTwo Flight

The Winkelvoss twins with RIchard Branson. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
The Winkelvoss twins with RIchard Branson. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Remember those twin brothers from “The Social Network” who accused Mark Zuckerberg of ripping off their idea for Facebook and cutting them out of billions in profits? And then hilariously went to Harvard President Larry Summers and asked him to intervene?

Well, they’re heading to space. And are they enthused about it. Very enthused.

Virgin Galactic announced today that Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are the 700th and 701st people to sign up for a ride to space aboard SpaceShipTwo. The two brothers run Winklevoss Capital, which is an investment firm.

In a history-laden blog post titled, “Bitcoin, Space and Beyond!“, Tyler compares their upcoming trip to the legendary explorations of Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Robert Peary, Roald Amundsen, Nicolaus Copernicus, Ferdinand Magellan, Edmund Hillary, Earnest Shackleton, Yuri Gagarin, Neil Armstrong, and the Pilgrims of Massachusetts.

What, no Lewis and Clark? Oh, well.

If that wasn’t enough name dropping, he also invokes John F. Kennedy,  Ferdinand and Isabella, Elon Musk and Satoshi Nakamoto. (That last one is a pseudonym for the person or persons who invented Bitcoin.)

Tyler also sees great things just around the corner for Virgin Galactic.

For a moment, however, let’s consider a few of the possibilities that might be just around the corner. Hypothetically, a natural disaster strikes a remote part of the world during a long holiday weekend. Via the Virgin Galactic platform, emergency responders and volunteers are boots on the ground in less than two hours. Simultaneously, small payload satellites are launched into space overhead. These satellites bring not only Internet and data connectivity to the area, but also high definition video feeds and ground penetrating radar that can help facilitate search and rescue efforts. Financial aid and charitable donations that would normally incur transaction costs and take days to arrive can now be sent instantly and for free via the Bitcoin network. Potentially, the overall loss of life is reduced, injuries are mitigated and rebuilding efforts are accelerated because two technologies have allowed goodwill and compassion to go to work that much faster.

Well, that’s certainly a novel (and likely super expensive) use of point-to-point hypersonic travel. Unfortunately, boots on the ground are going to be of limited utility without emergency supplies. Those will be far too heavy to bring in by hypersonic vehicles, so they will have to go by ship or cargo plane.

Google has a plan for more than 1,000 small satellites it wants to launch to provide broadband coverage around the world. Those would be most useful in an emergency. And, as it so happens, Virgin Galactic is developing LauncherOne to deploy small satellites.  It seems like there would be a natural partnership there between Virgin Galactic and Google.