I had the privilege of attending the rollout of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo yesterday. The spaceship rides under the center portion of the mother ship, called the WhiteKnightTwo (which I wrote about last year).
The rollout had many special guests, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (pictured at podium–last photo at bottom), Sir Richard Branson (pictured in second to last photo) and Burt Rutan (the designer of the spacecraft, pictured with me, here) .
The plane will carry the spaceship and its six passengers and pilots up to an altitude of roughly 50,000 feet before releasing it prior to the spacecraft’s rocket motor kicking in and taking it the rest of the way into suborbital flight (about 60 miles above Earth). From there, passengers will be able to experience weightlessness as well as see the curvature of the Earth.
During Rutan’s presentation, he said that when he was working on the X Prize project to show that private commercial flights into outer space were possible, he spoke to several airlines to see if they would like to joint venture on the concept. None of them was interested.
He then shared with the audience that just prior to the launch of the WhiteKnightOne for the X Prize competition, he received a phone call from Sir Richard of Virgin Atlantic, who asked if Rutan were interested in working with him to help launch the Virgin Galactic spaceships as a commercial venture. Rutan thought that Virgin was a great company to partner with because it has a history of flying passengers with a founder who is willing to tackle large projects that involve a high risk but can include a big payoff. He said Branson has been the perfect partner throughout the process, giving him guidance and a substantial amount of freedom.
Entrepreneurship is alive and well in the U.S. and the world! I was impressed by the designers and engineers I met. The whole experience was concrete evidence that an entrepreneurial spirit can take the groundwork laid down by governments for space exploration and turn it into a viable commercial venture. Branson said he hopes that by the year 2020, space flight will be affordable to many people around the world. I, for one, would not bet against him.
I predict that before 2020, Virgin Galactic will have created more astronauts than all countries combined have done to this date.