Tuesday 18 June 2019

Richard Branson's space venture inspired by call to children's TV show

Richard Branson
Richard Branson

Rob Middleton

Businessman Sir Richard Branson once admitted he got the idea for his commercial space flight venture during a phone-in on a children's TV show.

The Virgin boss said he first thought about it in 1988 when appearing on the BBC Saturday morning show Going Live after a viewer suggested it during a phone-in.

He said: "You never know what sparks things off in your mind but as a result of that show we registered the name Virgin Galactic Airways.

"Over the next decade I started travelling around the world meeting technicians and engineers to see if we could find a genius who could build a spaceship that could take you and me into space."

Sir Richard said the idea was the "beginning of a whole new era of space travel" and was "the most ridiculously exciting thing that I've done in my lifetime".

He added: "If we can get enough people wanting to fly in it then we can start building Virgin hotels in space, we can start doing trips to Mars."

In February, he reiterated his claim that the first Virgin Galactic flight into space would take place by the end of the year.

The launch date for the much-delayed project has been put back repeatedly from the original 2007 forecast, but the Virgin entrepreneur claimed he will fly with his children on the inaugural flight by the end of 2014.

Hundreds of would-be tourists have made down payments of more than £125,000 (250,000 US dollars) for the chance to fly in the project which is owned by Sir Richard's Virgin Group and Abu Dhabi's Aabar Investments PJS.

Celebrities including Hollywood actors Tom Hanks and Angelina Jolie have apparently reserved spaces to become space tourists including brief periods of weightlessness during the two-hour trip to 62 miles above the Earth.

Stephen Hawking, professor of mathematics at Cambridge University and author of A Brief History of Time, said he hoped to travel with the space tourism business in which people would experience six minutes of weightlessness during a sub-orbital spaceflight.

In an interview with the Guardian, Sir Richard previously said: "When I started Virgin Atlantic, I knew nothing about running airlines. I just felt somebody should be able to do it better than British Airways.

"Then we got a lot of creative people who weren't from the airline world to go and shake up the business. Starting a spaceship company is not that dissimilar."

According to the Guardian, Sir Richard said the first unmanned test flight will take place "soon", and the inaugural flight would be televised live by American broadcaster NBC.

In a statement to the newspaper, it said: "Without a doubt, Sir Richard and his children taking the first commercial flight into space will go down in history as one of the most memorable events on television."

In January, SpaceShipTwo made its third rocket-powered supersonic flight in the Mojave Desert, soaring to a record 71,000 feet.

The company said the reusable space vehicle was carried by aeroplane to 46,000 feet, and then released.

The craft used its rocket motor the rest of the way to reach its highest altitude to date. SpaceShipTwo and its two-member crew then glided to a safe landing in the desert north of Los Angeles, where today's crash happened.

The crash is not just a setback for Virgin Galactic but also has implications for a number of airports and military bases in the United Kingdom.

Aviation Minister Robert Goodwill announced at this year's Farnborough Air Show that, although the project is based in California, the Government hoped to tempt Sir Richard to base his flights from the UK.

Eight possible spaceport locations were identified including Newquay Airport in England, Llanbedr in Wales and six airports in Scotland - Glasgow Prestwick, Stornoway, Kinloss, Campbeltown, RAF Leuchars and RAF Lossiemouth.

Press Association

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