Billionaires race to be first in space

New York (CNN Business)Richard Branson, the billionaire entrepreneur who is set to take a test flight on his Virgin Galactic spaceship to the edge of outer space on Sunday, has rarely been one to shy away from risky activities, and because of that he’s narrowly avoided being killed numerous times in his nearly 71 years.

Some of the near-death experiences were the result of bad luck, such as a stubbed toe in 1980 that nearly sent him down a deep gorge on his private island to the jagged rocks below.
Everything you need to know about Richard Branson going to space this weekend
Some were the result of publicity-seeking promotions, such as bungee jumping off Victoria Falls as part of a television show about him or leaping off the side of a Las Vegas casino to promote flights to the city by one of his airlines. Both stunts left him bloody and injured.

    Some were just due to his sense of adventure, such as numerous balloon accidents as he attempted, and sometimes succeeded, to set records for long-distance balloon flights.

      Coast Guard helicopters head back to the Barbers Point Naval Station after rescuing multi-millionaire adventurers Richard Branson and Steve Fossett and pilot Per Lindstrand after they were forced to abort their latest round-the-world bid due to bad weather December 25. The giant hot-air balloon, shown deflating in the Pacific Ocean off Hawaii, took off from Morocco December 18,  travelled about 8,200 miles (13,120 kms) -- about half the distance of its intended odyssey.
      His second autobiography, “Finding My Virginity,” includes an appendix entitled “75 Close Shaves,” in which he details some of the instances when his life has been at risk. Here are some of the highlights he wrote about on that list, in his own words:

      1972: Survived a fishing boat sinking on honeymoon with my first wife, Kristen, off Mexico. We decided to jump off the boat and swim for shore, while the others stayed put — we were the only survivors.
      1976: Flew a microlight aircraft by mistake. It was the first time I’d sat in it, I had no idea how to fly it and accidentally took off. I was pulling wires out desperately. I cut the engine and managed to crash-land into a field. My instructor died in an accident the next day.

      In pictures: Billionaire tycoon Richard Branson

      Richard Branson, seen here at an air show in 2012, is a self-made billionaire who has a large conglomerate of businesses under the Virgin brand.

      A young Branson is seen in London in 1969. At the age of 16, Branson dropped out of school and started an alternative youth magazine called Student. He and his friend Nik Powell also started a mail-order record business. It was called Virgin because they were new to the business world.

      Branson poses in one of his Virgin Megastores in 1979. His mail-order record business had evolved into a chain of successful record stores. By this time, Branson also had started his Virgin Records music label. Over the years, Virgin would sign notable artists such as the Sex Pistols, the Rolling Stones and Genesis.

      Branson reads the newspaper in a bathtub aboard his houseboat in London in 1984.

      In 1984. Branson formed the airline Virgin Atlantic. He got the idea after becoming stranded in Puerto Rico when his flight to the British Virgin Islands was canceled because of a lack of passengers. He chartered a private plane and sold tickets aboard the flight to other stranded travelers.

      Branson inaugurates his new airline on June 22, 1984.

      Branson pilots his speedboat, the Virgin Atlantic Challenger II, in New York Harbor in 1986. He zipped across the Atlantic in a record-breaking time of three days, eight hours and 31 minutes. He tried to break the record a year earlier, but his $2 million vessel sank.

      Branson is seen with his wife, Joan, and their children, Holly and Sam, after they were married on the Caribbean island of Neckar in 1989. The island, part of the British Virgin Islands, was purchased by Branson and is operated as a luxury resort.

      Branson poses with his parents, Eve and Edward, at a reception in Los Angeles in 1991. His mother was a flight attendant and his father was a lawyer.

      Branson and Per Lindstrand sit in a capsule as they prepare to fly in a hot-air balloon in 1991. In 1987, Branson and Lindstrand became the first people to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a hot-air balloon.

      Branson is seen in his office in London in 1996. In 1992, he sold his Virgin Music Group to Thorn EMI. He said the sale would allow him to concentrate on his airline.

      Branson fires up a Virgin balloon outside the city walls of Marrakesh, Morocco, in 1996.

      Branson cuddles with a young lion cub at South Africa's Sun City resort in 1996.

      Branson applies makeup before the launch of his Virgin Brides venture in 1996. The business combined weddings and honeymoons in a one-stop shop.

      US Coast Guard helicopters head back to the Barbers Point Naval Air Station in Hawaii after rescuing Branson and his co-pilots following a hot-air balloon crash in 1998. Branson and his co-pilots were attempting to fly around the world in a hot-air balloon. They started in Morocco and passed through Asia before eventually crash-landing in Hawaii. No one was hurt.

      In 1999, Branson celebrates Virgin Atlantic's inaugural flight to Shanghai, China.

      Branson is kissed by his wife, Joan, and his daughter Holly after he was knighted in 2000 for his "service to entrepreneurship."

      Branson poses for photos in India after launching a direct flight from London to New Delhi in 2000.

      Branson launches Virgin Mobile USA, a cellular phone service, at New York's Times Square in 2002.

      Branson, left, pilots an amphibious vehicle during a record-breaking crossing of the English Channel in 2004. He crossed the channel in one hour, 40 minutes and six seconds.

      Branson unveils the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, a single-engine jet that Steve Fossett would later fly around the world in a little more than 67 hours.

      Branson runs with the Olympic torch in London in 2004, ahead of the Olympic Games that year in Athens, Greece.

      Branson announced his space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic, in 2004.

      Branson kisses Steve Fossett after Fossett flew the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer for 25,766 miles in 2006. It was the longest nonstop flight in history.

      Branson appears in an episode of the TV show "Friends" in 2006.

      Branson and former US Vice President Al Gore announce the Virgin Earth Challenge in 2007. The Virgin Earth Challenge was a $25 million prize to be awarded to an individual or a group who could demonstrate a commercially viable design to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and safely store them. The prize was never awarded, as Virgin said no entries satisfied all of the prize criteria, and the challenge is no longer active.

      Branson jumps off the roof of the Palms hotel in Las Vegas as part of a publicity stunt for his Virgin America airline in 2007.

      Branson and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger address the media as Virgin Galactic unveiled a commercial spacecraft designed to send passengers into orbit for $200,000 a ticket.

      Branson kite-surfs the English Channel in 2012. At 61 years old, he was the oldest person to kite-surf the channel. He did it in three hours and 45 minutes.

      Branson chats with Britain's Prince Harry at the finish of the London Marathon in 2013. Virgin has been sponsoring the event for years.

      Branson poses for a portrait in Munich, Germany, in 2016.

      Branson appears on an episode of the TV show "Shark Tank" in 2017.

      People take selfies with Branson after he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2018.

      Branson stands with crew members of Virgin Galactic in 2021. The company announced on July 1 that Branson would be among the people on board its next test flight on July 11.

      1980 — I stubbed my toe while walking around Necker Island and suddenly fell down a gaping gorge. I managed to get my hand to the other side, and Steve Barron managed to rescue me, pulling me up before I fell to what would have been certain death on the jagged rocks below.
      1985 — Sank in the [high-altitude hot-air balloon capsule] Virgin Atlantic Challenger 1 as we were crossing the Atlantic, had to be pulled out of the ocean.
      1986 — Crashed a car while driving through the Alps with my family. I hit some ice and went down a small cliff and turned the car over.
      1986 — On my first solo hot-air balloon flight, I crashed badly, smashing into the ground. It was a sign of things to come.
      1986 — On my first time skydiving, there was one cord that opened the parachute and one that got rid of it. I pulled the wrong cord by mistake. I was falling through the air before an instructor managed to yank my spare ripcord.
      1987 — On our attempt to cross the Atlantic in a hot-air balloon, the balloon’s solar heating was too good and we headed up, up and up with seemingly no way to stop it. My co-pilot Per managed to bring the balloon down just before the capsule imploded and we tumbled to our deaths.

      Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand attend a press conference to announce their 'Trans Atlantic Balloon Challenge' attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean in the 'Virgin Atlantic Flyer' hot air balloon on May 12, 1987 in New York City.
      1987 — On the same challenge I lost my co-pilot when Per jumped into the Atlantic, leaving me alone in the hot-air balloon as it disappeared back above the clouds. I was convinced I was going to die. On that memorable flight…I managed to crash the balloon into the North Sea and was rescued by helicopter.
      1989 — I decided to make an entrance to my wedding with Joan, dangling from a helicopter in an all-white suit. I dropped into the shallow end of the pool by mistake, smashed my legs, and spent the whole wedding hobbling.

      Virgin chairman Richard Branson arrives for his wedding to partner of 14 years, Joan Templeman, on the Caribbean island of Necker
      1991 — In a hot air balloon saw it catch fire at 30,000 feet. We managed to extinguish the fire before the balloon was destroyed. On the same balloon flight, we lost half our fuel when full tanks dropped as we jettisoned empty fuel. We thought we would run out of fuel halfway across the Pacific, before strong winds in the jet stream saved us. We crashed in the Artic — successfully completing the challenge, but crashing in minus-50-degree temperatures 3,000 miles from our planned destination in Los Angeles.

      Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand in the balloon capsule before launch in Japan, 1991
      2001 — Narrowly missed stepping on a live track with 25,000 volts charged above, while inspecting our new tilting trains in England.
      2004 — Agreed to do a bungee jump off Victoria Falls as part of my TV show “The Rebel Billionaire.” As I fell through the air I clipped my head on something and came back up with blood streaming down my face.

        2007 — Jumped off Palms Casino in Las Vegas as we announced Virgin America’s new route to the city. After initially refusing to do the jump, I reconsidered and plunged down the building at high speed in strong winds. I smashed painfully hard into the buildings. Fortunately I hadn’t spun around, so my backside hit the wall rather than my head. It completely ripped the back of my trousers off, cut my legs and arm open and badly bruised my hand.

        Founder of the Virgin Group Richard Branson stunts off The Palms Fantasy Tower at The Palms Casino Resort on October 10, 2007 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
        2016 — My life flashed before my eyes as I went over the handlebars while cycling on Virgin Gorda. My bike disappeared over the cliff, I escaped with a cracked cheek, severe cuts and bruises and a torn shoulder.
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