WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- It’s been a long time coming but Richard Branson believes Virgin Galactic’s first space tourists will take off in 2018, opening the final frontier up to tourism for the first time
Wannabe space tourism company Virgin Galactic hasn’t exactly had the easiest time of things, originally, founder Richard Branson wanted the new company to be offering space flights in 2009 – and then there was a deadly crash in the Mojave desert. But now, almost eight years on from his original deadline it looks like the company is almost there after Branson announced that they intend to offer the first flights in 2018. And, of course, Branson wants to be one of the first people to fly.
“Well we stopped giving dates,” he said, “but I think I’d be very disappointed if we’re not into space with a test flight by the end of this year and I’m not into space myself next year and the program isn’t well underway by the end of next year.”
“The test program is going really well,” he said, “and as long as we’ve got our brave test pilots pushing it to the limit we think that after whatever it is, 12 years of hard work, we’re nearly there.”
Virgin Galactic’s foray into the space industry was nearly permanently derailed by the October 2014 crash of the company’s SpaceShipTwo which resulted in the death of one of the aircraft’s two co-pilots.
The accident was a horrible setback, but the company seems to have learned important lessons moving forward, especially under former NASA chief of staff and current CEO George Whitesides.
Safety standards have experienced a robust leap forward, and Virgin Galactic is enjoying a successful new round of testing, having just completing the third glide test of the new version of the SpaceShipTwo, the VSS Unity.
Also, the launch of a new manufacturing division, The Spaceship Company, and the addition of Stephen Hawking as a ticket holder for one of the first flights into space are extremely encouraging signs the company is making effective strides.
The company has quite a way to go though before it can send humans up into the sky and guarantee a safe journey back, but with about 500 customers having already put down $250,000 each on a seat to go into space sometime soon, there doesn’t seem to be any turning back now. And when Virgin Galactic does finally crack the code it’ll open the doors to space tourism for all of us and I for one intend to be in that queue – that is after my crowdfunding campaign hits its $250,000 goal…