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Celebrating Nearly a Decade of Richard Branson Almost Sending Us to Space

In 2004, Richard Branson said we'd be in space by 2008. That didn't pan out

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo during yesterday’s test. Photo: MarsScientific.com and Clay Center Observatory

In an early morning flight yesterdaySpaceShipTwo, the passenger-carrying spacecraft of private spaceflight company Virgin Galactic rocketed through the sky above the Mojave Desert at a blistering mach 1.2 (around 913 miles per hour). It was the first rocket-powered test flight of the craft, an event heralded as the dawn of the commercial space age. More than 500 people have bought tickets to ride the ship, says the New York Times, and their wait, says Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson, might nearly be over.

“We will be going to space at the end of this year,” Mr. Branson said in a telephone interview after the test flight over Mojave, Calif. Or, he added, possibly in the first quarter of next year.

Branson’s confidence, just like his ship, is soaring. He’s so confident, in fact, Virgin Galactic has decided to raise their rates: formerly $200,000, a trip to space with the company will now cost $250,000. But that confidence may be a bit misplaced, if the company’s track record in this regard is considered.

2004

After years of work, the original SpaceShipOne, designed by the company Scaled Composites, took home the $10 million bounty of the Ansari X Prize.

Following that win, Richard Branson partnered with Scaled Composites to form Virgin Galactic, says CNN. At the time, the company announced that they planned to have people riding into space by 2007. Space Daily:

Addressing reporters in central London, Branson said that the new firm — Virgin Galactic — would launch its maiden flight in only three years, and that he would join the very first trip into space.

“Within five years, Virgin Galactic will have created over 3,000 new astronauts from many countries,” Branson said, speaking alongside US aviation pioneer Burt Rutan, who designed and built SpaceShipOne.

2005

Talking to the BBC, Branson walked back his estimate a bit, now gunning for 2008. “Space tourism is less than three years away, Sir Richard Branson has claimed.”

2008

The 2008 schedule came and went, and according to the BBC, the deadline for launch was pushed to 2010.

2009

The first unveiling of SpaceShipTwo, the ship that underwent its first real test flight yesterday.

2010

With construction of SpaceShipTwo complete, Richard Branson tells Agence France Press that “We are 18 months away from taking people into space.”

2011

The year saw another bump, wrote this author in Discover Magazine: “Virgin Galactic refuses to set a date for when it will begin flying its paying customers to the edge of space, but some are hoping to see flights start as early as the end of 2011.” But 2011 came and went with no avail.

2012

Flights should start by 2012, or early 2013 at the latest, says Aviation Explorer.

You see the pattern.

Getting into space is an incredibly difficult and expensive task, and delays are commonplace. Yesterday’s rocket-powered test was an achievement worth celebrating, but a skeptical eye can be cast on Branson’s claims that you’ll be riding the ship within the next year.

More from Smithsonian.com:

A Sneak Peek at the First Commercial Spaceport
October 4, 2004: SpaceShipOne Wins $10 Million X Prize

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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