George Whitesides – Virgin Galactic

"Only 541 people have been to space (total). Within two years we will double that number."

“Only 541 people have been to space (total). Within two years we will double that number.”

George Whitesides is the CEO and President of Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight company founded by Sir Richard Branson. Prior to Virgin Galactic, Whitesides served as Chief of Staff for NASA, where he provided policy and staff support to the agency’s Administrator. Upon departure from the agency he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest award the agency confers.

During this talk at the WOBI conference I was just in awe. There isn’t much to say after a video like that. I am unbelievably excited that the view from space may be something I see in my lifetime with my own eyes.  Especially after my thoughts on the Overview Effect, I think it would do the world a lot of good for people to see the world as one planet, one ecosystem, and not a collection of invisible borders. Companies like Virgin Galactic are pushing the envelope of what’s possible, going where governments have not.

All seats to fly to space are US$250,000 and deposits are refundable.  They have over 500 people that have already paid this amount. I’m not saying that that is my ideal price point, but what would you pay to say you went to space?  The price will come down as well. To put it in perspective, in 1978, average round trip U.S. Domestic Airfare was $575 dollars, but decreased by 50% in less than 30 years.  As the technology gets better, operational costs will come down.

Today, they have their one airport out of New Mexico, and are planning to take manned flights in the first quarter of 2014. In time, they hope to have airports in other continents as well.  This is the first technology to innovate the jet industry since they broke the sound barrier. When you think about it, this could revolutionize point to point travel significantly, decreasing the time around the world to a few short hours.

Think if what it will do to science education in this country if students could design science experiments for zero gravity in space. Think of what it would be to share a view of the stars with your family, using your eyes and not a textbook. To share a view of home. To watch a thunderstorm travel across the east coast from above. To be able to say, yes, I left this planet. Now that is innovation.


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