Winklevoss Twins Use Bitcoin To Pay For Virgin Galactic Space Trip

Venture capitalists Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss have used a part of their Bitcoin hoard to buy themselves a ride on a Virgin Galactic spaceship.

“Why? Because Bitcoin and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic are two technologies that meaningfully represent our focus at Winklevoss Capital – the reduction of pain-points and friction in an effort to build a better world,” explained Tyler on the Winklevoss Capital blog.

In April 2013, the New York Times reported that the twins owned one percent of all bitcoins in existence, or approximately 108,000 BTC.

A single ticket for Branson’s SpaceShipTwo costs $250,000 (£149.500), and takes the passengers to nearly 50,000 feet above planet Earth, where they can experience six minutes of weightlessness. Last November, Branson announced that a flight attendant from Hawaii had become the first person to pay for their seat with bitcoins.

Space oddity

The Winklevoss twins are Olympic rowers and Harvard University graduates who first came to the attention of the public when they claimed that Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea for a social network by creating Facebook, at a time when they were working on a similar website called HarvardConnection (later renamed ConnectU).

The twins reportedly started buying up the virtual currency in the summer of 2012, when it was worth no more than $20 per bitcoin. In contrast, today according to CoinDesk Bitcoin Price Index, one BTC costs around $657 (£393).

They also invested heavily in bitcoin exchange BitInstant, but distanced themselves from the company after its co-founder Charles ‘Charlie’ Shrem was charged with operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, violating the Bank Secrecy Act and conspiring to commit money laundering through the now-defunct Silk Road marketplace.

Virgin Galactic’s first successful rocket-powered flight took place in April 2013, and the SpaceShipTwo completed is third flight in January.

Tyler describes the upcoming trip as “seed capital supporting a new technology that may forever change the way we travel, purchased with a new technology that may forever change the way we transact.” He suggests that in time, projects like Virgin Galactic could find uses outside of ‘space tourism’, for example transporting emergency respondents to the scene of a natural disaster in record time.

“I am thankful that the desire to build beyond what we have inherited and push beyond our own preconceived barriers, are fundamental human traits, and when realized, engender the truest sense of accomplishment,” wrote Tyler.

Despite its name, Virgin Galactic is never planning to send people into Earth’s orbit, and definitely not open space. NASA astronaut Chris Hadfield had previously described it as ‘not much of a space flight’. At the same time the feasibility of the whole project has been questioned by author and journalist Tom Bower in his recent book Branson: Behind The Mask. Bower notes that Galactic’s commercial launch has been perpetually delayed since 2007, and despite talking $42 million in ticket deposits, is struggling with passenger safety.

Meanwhile, the virtual currency is remaining stable following the bankruptcy of Mt Gox, once the most popular bitcoin exchange in the world.

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Max Smolaks

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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