Back in 2005, when business mogul Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic began selling tickets for private trips into space to some of the world's wealthiest citizens, it seemed like the dream of the average man or women venturing into the heavens long held by fans of science fiction and industry alike was just around the corner. Unfortunately, history would play out a bit differently than the potential future offered up by the rosy prognostications of Branson and others in 2005.
Despite this fact, it appears that Virgin Galactic is poised to make good on this endeavor nearly 14 years later thanks to a new series of aircraft tests that took place in the Mojave Desert last week.
As Richard Waters of The Financial Times reports, Virgin Galactic's Unity spacecraft recently ascended to a height of 80 kilometers (km) – the altitude at which "space" officially begins, as noted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA//0 and the United States (U.S.) military. While this milestone may be short of the Karman line (the technical limit of the earth's atmosphere), it still serves as a dramatic leap forward for a project that many thought would be shelved permanently after the tragic accident in 2014 that left a Virgin Galactic pilot dead.
Outside of checking off another milestone on its quest toward space tourism, the reemergence of Virgin Galactic as a major player in the race to private sector space serves as a strong challenge to other members of this burgeoning industry. Specifically, Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk's SpaceX both also currently lay claim to the stated goal of becoming the first company ever to send a private citizen into space.
From perhaps an even bigger picture perspective, the continued development of alternative methods of transportation (of any type) definitely deserves to be on the radar of the automotive industry. It may seem like a longshot now, but much like the rise of autonomous vehicles and ride-sharing services, the work of Virgin Galactic could lead to viable options that theoretically replace the concept of traditional vehicle ownership – or even the concept of transportation as we know it today.
Looking to learn even more about the impressive work done by the Virgin Galactic team and garner additional perspective surrounding Unity's first trip into space? Then be sure to dig into the complete story from Waters over on The Financial Times by clicking on the link below.