Reflecting upon Virgin Galactic’s first space flight

Richard Branson looks up at the sky smiling, while son Sam Branson looks at him and smiles
Image by Greg Rose
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 14 December 2018

I’ve been reflecting upon Virgin Galactic’s first space flight and the momentous achievement of a crewed spaceship, built to carry private paying passengers, reaching space for the first time ever. We’ve been poring over the footage and marveling at the technology, but most of all I’ve been thinking about the incredible people who made this happen. 

Life is all about people, and so are businesses - even the world’s first commercial spaceline. From the astonishingly calm and skillful pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and CJ Sturckow - now astronauts - to the talented and diligent ground crews and support teams. From the people who have worked behind the scenes over the 14 years of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company’s journey so far, to the people supporting us from the flightline and all around the globe.

We often talk about Virgin being one big family and it feels like that more than ever today. From my immediate family, it was such a delight having Sam alongside us to hug at the moment we reached space. I felt so many emotions all at once and was completely overjoyed and overcome.

View of earth from a Virgin Galactic spaceship
Image by Virgin Galactic

Speaking of embraces, I loved how Virgin Galactic CEO George Whiteside urged us all to hug it out after the flight. What a special moment in the desert sunshine, with our spaceship glistening in the background. As I was talking I hadn’t realised VSS Unity had appeared behind us; it was like a moment in a Christmas pantomime – it’s behind you! 

Many of us cried tears of joy when we reached space, and the air really was filled with love as we celebrated the milestone flight. It certainly was for two of our wonderful team. After the flight, The Spaceship Company flight test engineer Brandon Parrish proposed to his girlfriend Veronica McGowan, a Structural Engineer at The Spaceship Company. What better way to propose than with a ring that had just flown to space? Huge congratulations to the happy couple.

It was fascinating talking with our astronauts after the flight. Forger told me how SpaceShipTwo has improved as we have continued to develop the test program. “Today, it was like a trained thoroughbred stallion. I just let it go and it flew beautifully.” That is why we test, making strides forward every flight, and readying our spaceship for commercial flight.

We’re all looking forward to pushing on with the rest of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and SpaceShipTwo fly still faster and higher towards her and our goal of creating thousands of private astronauts from every corner of the globe. 

I’m so proud of the Virgin family every day, but today I am prouder than ever.