You might say that Victor Vescovo is a walking bucket list. Take what he did this past weekend. Maybe you and I saw the new flick “Top Gun: Maverick” or practiced some backyard gardening. Vescovo flew at over three times the speed of sound on a Blue Origin rocket to suborbital space. In so doing, he became the first person to stand atop the highest point on the planet, 29,035-ft. Mt. Everest, visit the lowest point in the ocean, Challenger Deep nearly 36,000 feet below the surface of the Pacific, and go beyond the Karman Line to more than 100 kilometers above Earth, where many say space begins.
Vescovo says he does these extreme things not to accumulate Guinness records and such, but out of genuine curiosity and to push technological and physical limits. He hopes to inspire others to do the same. “It’s nice to be recognized, of course, but it’s never been a motivation of mine for records or notoriety,” says Vescovo. “I don’t even have an Instagram account.”
At 56, Vescovo is a wealthy man, but not by the standards of say, mega-billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. But he is rich enough to fund his six-figure climb of Everest, build a submersible strong enough to withstand the pressures of the most extreme depths (cost: a reported $50 million) and pony up seven figures to fly into space. Most of Vescovo’s money comes from the investment firm he co-founded, Insight Equity Holdings, in Southlake, Texas. We caught up with the adventurer/explorer just two days after his exciting spaceflight. Following are edited excerpts from a longer phone conversation.
Jim Clash: Let’s talk about space first, particularly the view, since you just got back.
Victor Vescovo: Like many people say, you get this overview effect up there. You see the curvature of the Earth, the thin skin of the atmosphere, the blues and whites of the clouds for once from the top down. But what really struck me was how far you could see! There’s also this blackness while at the same time this huge ball of fire, our sun, in the same frame. You never experience that until you go to space. It really hits home that we are in a solar system, on a spaceship going through the galaxy, and we need to take care of that spaceship. We also need to make ourselves multi-planetary to reduce our risk if we end up having a short career on this one.
Clash: Why did you choose Blue Origin versus say, space tourism competitor Virgin Galactic for your flight?
Vescovo: It’s a bit of a sensitive subject because I have enormous respect for Richard Branson, and Virgin Galactic, and what they are trying to do. I actually have a slot on VG’s roster, but, at the end of the day, you have to get people into space. Blue Origin has a rocket that regularly goes up to the Karman Line. That’s particularly special, because there’s no question that you’re in space when you’re 100 kilometers above the Earth. I’m so fortunate to go on a Blue Origin flight and, while I’m a big supporter of the company, I’m also a big supporter of VG – and SpaceX. We need multiple parties to help us get into space. This is rocket science, let’s not forget that. But the more companies that do it, the more people that go up and the more money that’s put into the pipeline, the service will get cheaper, and more reliable, just like commercial aviation.
Clash: Compare and contrast your adventure trifecta: Everest, Challenger Deep and suborbital space.
Vescovo: In all three, you’re going into places where humans cannot exist on their own. They need support equipment, and generally other individuals. It’s what makes us human that we can evolve equipment and procedures to survive in such extreme spaces. I am fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity.
Clash: Which was your favorite of the three?
Vescovo: That’s like trying to pick your favorite child [laughs]. They’re just so different. People, of course, will say space is best, but not necessarily. The physicality and emotion of Everest is unbeatable. It’s a violent place, so exposed, so raw, and you take such a physical beating. Challenger Deep, well, very few people have done that. Thousands have climbed Everest, hundreds have gone into space, but only 20 to 30 have been to the very bottom of the ocean. It is much more mental and organizational, financial and technological than Everest, a different set of challenges, but no less difficult. If anything drastic happens with the integrity of the system down there, you’ll be gone before you even know it. You can’t see very far, maybe 20 or 30 meters, as opposed to being on top of the world or in space. But I feel like I contributed directly to a grander technological development by building my own submersible which allows for repeated visitation of a place that previously more or less was inaccessible.
Clash: You’ve done most everything now. What possibly could be left for you?
Vescovo: There’s always something, Jim [laughs]. You can push further. I’d love to go to all of the deep ocean trenches, go into actual orbit, to the Moon, to Mars. There’s no end until we end up in the ground. I’m going to keep doing what I do as long as I can stay healthy and keep my imagination alive.