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ATW Editor's Blog

What now for Richard Branson’s space travel dreams?


A tragic day today for Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic program, with news that test vehicle SpaceShipTwo has crashed into the Mohave Desert. One of the pilots was killed and the other injured, it was reported.

I was at a conference in Washington DC last year where Branson took the stage with Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson, with whom he has forged a transatlantic alliance with Virgin Atlantic.

Branson showed a captivating video of the Virgin Galactic’s ambitions – to make space travel accessible to ordinary citizens and also to vastly speed up commercial transportation between Earth’s hubs. He talked enthusiastically about the potential for flying from Sydney to Los Angeles, for example, in 45 minutes. (And then joked that, unless things change on Earth, he would still have to spend two hours getting through customs and immigration).

As always, Branson's passion and sheer determination to believe in new ways to do things was infectious. Anderson, who is Mr. Corporate Yin to Branson’s man-of-the-people Yang, was obviously as enthralled as everyone else in the audience.

And while no one does branding and promotion better than Virgin, you do get the sense that on this particular project it is far more than an attention-grabber and that Branson is personally inspired by the goals of space travel for the people. At the conference, he also talked about how he fully intended to fly in space himself and was very excited at the prospect.

But space travel and technology, as today’s crash shows, remains extremely difficult, expensive and fraught with danger.

Right now, the focus will be on the human loss and, of course, on investigating what went wrong with SpaceShipTwo today. Longer term, there will be the assessment of how much damage has been done to the overall program and to Branson’s dream.

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