Daredevil. Entrepreneur. Astronaut. Congratulations to Sir Richard Branson for his pioneering flight aboard Virgin Galactic’s spectacular voyage to the edge of space this morning – more than 53 miles above the earth. Quite an accomplishment.
Back in 2005, I encountered Branson while I was munching on coldcuts and cheese wedges in the Virgin Airlines Upper Class Lounge at JFK Airport in New York. Through some fortuitous events, I was able to catch a ride with Branson (of course, he was seated elsewhere), media types, and anti-poverty activists with the One Campaign on a chartered flight from JFK to Heathrow and then on to Virgin’s first landing in Edinburgh, Scotland for the G-8 meeting of international leaders.
If you have to party with a billionaire on a transatlantic flight, Branson is your man. He was popping champagne corks and mugging for photos and goofing around on the intercom system. My first impressions: “Branson showed up looking tanned, toothy and exceedingly charismatic. He fits the profile of someone who has attempted to circumnavigate the globe in a hot-air ballon.” Ironically, I also wrote: “Most recently, Branson has been trying to muster up the business plan for commercial space travel (Virgin Galactic). If anyone can pull this off, I imagine it will be Branson.”
Well, he pulled it off. Hats off to Branson and the brainiacs behind the endeavor. I really savored this section from the Washington Post coverage (owned by Jeff Bezos) this morning from Spaceport American, New Mexico: “Virgin Galactic seemed intent on making it clear that this was not a traditional NASA launch. Instead of a stoic countdown, there was a party-like atmosphere along the tarmac, a scene as much a spectacle as a space launch that even included a musical guest, Khalid, who debuted a new song during a performance here. The company’s live broadcast of the flight was hosted by comedian and late night host Stephen Colbert, and [Elon] Musk was on hand to watch Branson and the crew take off.”
Every frontier needs fresh pioneers to gamble with gusto. Well done, Sir Richard!