Congratulations, Sir Richard

Sir Ricard Branson posing with a Virgin Airlines flight attendant on voyage from New York to London. Photo by Steve Beard, 2005.

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.

(Left to right) Bob Geldof, Djimon Hounsou, Natalie Imbruglia, and Richard Branson at Heathrow Airport. Photo by Steve Beard, 2005.

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.”

Virgin Galactic

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!

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