The idea of private space travel has moved beyond just a Star Wars-esque fantasy and is well on its way to becoming a reality for America’s aspiring astronauts. One burgeoning company officially broke historic ground by signing an agreement with NASA to make everyone’s space travel dream come true. Virgin Galactic has joined the race to independently launch the world’s first private space shuttles without any help from the government.
On Monday, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic issued a press release announcing their partnership with NASA’S Johnson Space Center to increase private orbital spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS). The company says the goal of the collaboration will be to encourage commercial participation among those who can afford its nearly quarter-million priced spaceflights while “enabling the development of a robust economy in Low Earth Orbit.” The agreement the companies have reached will serve to develop a readiness program to evaluate potential passengers, provide training, and eventually fly them to outer space.
After the news broke, Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. (SPCE) shares soared by at least 20%, according to Business Insider.
Yes, SpaceX is already in the race too, so in that sense, this isn’t necessarily groundbreaking news. What’s different with this partnership is that it’s purely for commercial purposes. The Virgin Galactic-NASA agreement is in the interest of flying regular people who simply want to engage in space travel, rather than government-sanctioned exploration, which is the focus of SpaceX’s efforts. It’s also the first time that a major airline will be affiliated with space travel.
George Whitesides, the CEO of Virgin Galactic, said in the press release, “Based on the unsurpassed levels of spaceflight customer commitments we have secured to date, we are proud to share that insight in helping to grow another market for the new space economy.” Sounds like Virgin will be the first and leading airline to normalize space travel and “bring the planetary perspective to many thousands of people.”
Virgin Galactic is accepting reservations for private flights to add to the list of nearly 600 people who have already paid the required $250,000 ticket price for a trip into orbit. Business Insider reported the company has already flown five people on test flights to space and back. They had also allegedly planned to take founder Richard Branson on a flight this summer before the pandemic hit.
The announcement came just weeks after SpaceX and NASA completed a launch domestically in Florida for the first time in about 10 years. The launch represented a major move in the mission to reinforce American strength to the world. If Virgin Galactica’s space flights can be quickly expanded for more frequent use, the technology will also enable Trump’s Space Force to dominate militarily.
However, it could be a very long time before the first commercial passenger flight, as the company will have to meet dozens of FAA validation steps prior to the first trip. For now, it is just a matter of increasing interest among the public and meeting demand as soon as possible. Regardless of timeline, Monday’s announcement is good for America in showing our independence and innovative abilities.