Friday, September 03, 2021

#IfYouReadOneThingToday - On Virgin Galactic

My tendencies toward being a self-admitted space cadet fanboy notwithstanding, I've watched the billionaire shootout to be the first to rocket into suborbital space with trepidation.

As much as I think the battle between Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin will ultimately benefit the space industry - it brings attention, which drives investment, which results in sustainable economic activity and spinoff tech benefits across the rest of the economy - I've worried about the risks since the first plans were drawn up nearly two decades ago.

It hit me the morning of Branson's epic flight in July, as his PR team ran a perfectly produced video of him cycling to the spaceport in advance of his flight. My antennae twitched when I saw the video. Too perfect. Too staged. Lovely bike, though.

Turns out it was indeed a PR stunt, recorded days earlier on a bike expressly designed by Trek to be sold to space-fan cyclists.

All was not as it seemed. And The New Yorker just published a piece that highlights the sobering safety near-miss that day, two near-disasters in-flight in 2018 and 2019, and the troubling firing of the company's chief safety officer mere days after the Branson's flight because he dared raise issues about Virgin Galactic's safety culture.

This is a disturbing read to anyone who follows the industry. And it underscores the very real fact that it's only a matter of time before someone else dies on one of these things.

By Nicholas Schmidle
The New Yorker
September 01, 2021

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