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Sir Richard takes Virgin into Space

CowboyNeal posted more than 9 years ago | from the blasting-off dept.

Space 158

quizdog writes "The latest issue of Wired has a story on Sir Richard Branson and the history of the Virgin Empire, focusing on his latest venture of partnering with Scaled Composites and Burt Rutan to bring the X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne hybrid rocket technology to the point where paying passengers can slip those 'surly bonds' of the atmosphere. Starting at just $200,000 a pop - any chance of a volume discount?" We first mentioned this a while back, but Wired's coverage is nice to see as well.

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Article text (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315575)

Rocket Man

Richard Branson conquered the world. Now he wants to fly you to space.

By Spencer Reiss

One lightly frozen billionaire has just climbed down from the port wing of a Virgin Atlantic 747 parked at the edge of a runway at Mojave Airport. It's a blustery gray morning in California's southern desert, and Virgin in chief Richard Branson has spent more than an hour standing in the wind, waiting to tape the opening sequence of his new reality show, Rebel Billionaire. The jet's not going anywhere, either: It's a mothballed reserve plane, prettied up just for the shoot. "We've been thinking about sinking her in the Caribbean for divers," says Branson, deep-sixing hot cocoa from a styrofoam cup.

Suddenly the sun pops out. Branson clambers back up onto the wing and runs through his paces again for the boom-rigged camera: crossed-arm stance, million-mile gaze across the desert, then a quick turn as the lens swoops in for a close-up, with a tease of that famous toothy grin and a glint of sky-blue eyes. Take that, Donald Trump! The rest of the cast hustles out onto the wing, the camera whirs again, and it's a wrap. To celebrate, Sir Richard Charles Nicholas Branson, 54-year-old lord of a $9 billion-a-year global empire, joins his happy TV troupe in mooning the crew. Everyone cracks up.

Branson has been mugging and grinning, diving and rappelling, ballooning and mooning his way to extreme mogulhood for nearly 40 years. (He started his first business, a magazine, while still in boarding school.) In that time, his Virgin Group has expanded from a funky record business into a sprawling keiretsu encompassing air travel, cell phones, train travel, soft drinks, African safaris, digital downloads, and Caribbean hideaways. Branson's own Virgin Island - no kidding - is available starting at $25,000 a day. All of which adds up to a personal fortune pegged by Forbes at $2.2 billion.

Despite such a dazzling career, the business world has always been ambivalent toward Britain's best-known entrepreneur. He launches trendy companies the way Trump builds casinos. But a farsighted innovator like Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos or even Southwest Airlines' Herb Kelleher he is not. Branson traffics in opportunism. He spots a stodgy, old-line industry, rolls out the Virgin logo, sprinkles some camera-catching glitter, and poof - another moneymaker. While that formula has kept him in champagne and headlines, no Virgin business has ever changed the world.

Until now. Mojave Airport isn't just where aging jets wait to die; it's where the dusty dream of commercial space travel is finally coming alive. Last summer, a tiny winged wonder called SpaceShipOne spiked 62 miles into the desert sky on its way to nailing the $10 million X Prize for the first sustainable civilian suborbital flight. The world's stuffed-shirt airline chiefs took one look and went back to worrying about fuel prices. Branson took one look at the gleaming white carbon-fiber spaceship and said, Beam me up.

The upshot is Virgin Galactic, the world's first off-the-planet private airline. Under a deal still being negotiated with SpaceShipOne's owners - Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen and legendary Mojave airplane designer Burt Rutan - Virgin will pay up to $21.5 million for an exclusive license to SpaceShipOne's core design and technologies. Another $50 million will go to Rutan's company Scaled Composites to build five tricked-out passenger spaceships. An equal amount will be invested in operations, including a posh Virgin Earth Base somewhere in the California desert. Total outlay: $121.5 million. Business plan: 50 passengers a month, paying $200,000 each. Core product: a two-hour flight to an apex beyond Earth's atmosphere, wrapped in a three-day astronaut experience. Lift off: T-minus three years.

Of course, Virgin Galactic is a tiny bit riskier than the typical Branson venture. For starters, the first passenger-carrying Virgin spaceship - already dubbed VSS Enterprise - is still just a glow on Rutan's computer screen. No one knows how big the market for seats into space might be. And what happens to the business model when a ship full of amateur astronauts fails to make it back to Mojave in one piece?

But look at the upside. The total price tag is half the cost of a single Airbus A340-600 - and Virgin Atlantic ordered 26 of those last summer. In return, Branson gets bragging rights to one of the cooler breakthroughs of the early 21st century, with rocket-powered marketing opportunities that could fuel excitement - and sales - in his entire 200-company holding group.

For the happy-go-lucky tycoon, though, there's something else at stake: Virgin Galactic is his chance to climb off that 747's wing and into the history books with the first airline - make that the first brand - on the final frontier. "Affordable private space travel opens a new era in human history," he tells reporters at a mini press event for the reality show in LA. "We'll go into orbit; we'll go to the moon. This is a business that has no limits."

Virgin Galactic isn't just about seizing first-mover advantage in space - it's about opening space to a wave of other entrepreneurs who will follow if Branson succeeds. Commercial spaceships will lead the way for private investment in what has been a government-funded vacuum, bringing a new physics of market forces to outer space. If Branson and his Virginauts can attract even a quarter of the customers they believe are out there, they'll rally today's backwater of wild dreamers, cranky engineers, and rich geeks to launch an era of glittery, out-of-this-world-class new businesses. "If we can make space fun," Branson says, "the rest will follow."

So today Branson is a billionaire with a mission. Forget low-cost satellite launches and zero-gravity platforms for growing crystals. Here comes caviar, designer space suits, and charter membership in the 62-Mile-High Club. The right stuff for everyman - or, at least, anybody with four and a half times the median annual US salary to burn on a three-day weekend.

Hangar 78, part of Scaled Composites' jumble of buildings at the edge of Mojave Airport, is as clean and well lit as a hospital nursery. Some of Rutan's babies crowd the broad floor; others hang upside down from the ceiling. The muttonchopped proprietor is away on what is described variously as a confidential business trip and a post X Prize extended golf vacation. But Branson is dropping by anyway. He's due back in LA in 90 minutes - Entertainment Tonight wants the rebel billionaire - but the cameras will have to wait. He's not leaving Mojave without a quick peek at his newest love.

White Knight, the mother ship that carried SpaceShipOne its first 47,000 feet into the sky, reclines just inside the open hangar door. The smaller space vehicle rests next to it, a shiny white winged cocoon. It's the size of a minivan, but it looks like one of the toys that come with a Happy Meal.

The adventure capitalist lopes in, not quite like he owns the place but definitely like a VIP customer. He inspects the newly stenciled 16p-x2 on SpaceShipOne's fuselage (Rutan decoder ring: 16th flight, powered; second X Prize launch). Then he steps around back to admire the Virgin Galactic logo neatly painted on the tail. "To think that this little ship can head off into space," he muses. "Tell me something more awesome."

Most of the Mojave crowd got the space bug as kids launching backyard model rockets or, like Rutan, watching Wernher von Braun explain Mars missions on The Walt Disney Show. Not Branson. He became interested in extraplanetary travel watching Jane Fonda in Barbarella as a teenager. "I saw it again when I was 21. I'd just been circumcised for health reasons, and I popped my stitches."

At 21, Branson was just about to launch the business that would start him on his way to the Forbes list: Virgin Music, a hit factory noted for Mike Oldfield's stoned classic "Tubular Bells," the Sex Pistols, and Culture Club. By the 1980s, the Virgin Group - so named, Branson says, because "we started with no experience at business whatsoever" - had moved into films, books, food, pubs, and apparel. Then, over the transom from an American dealmaker, came an offer that dramatically raised the stakes: Would Virgin want to front an upstart transatlantic airline?

What became Virgin Atlantic soared, but so did the Virgin Group's debts. A cash crisis in 1992 forced Branson to unload the family silver, Virgin Music. The $1 billion proceeds allowed him to regroup - and then to fund new ventures. The ones that stuck were airlines in Europe and Australia, newly privatized British rail lines, and mobile phones - plus a kaleidoscope of companies that contribute more to brand equity than to the bottom line.

The move from entertainment to travel inspired Branson to take up the feats of derring-do that have become his personal trademark, Virgin-branded adventures that typically involve high speed or altitude. He followed up the airline's debut with a record-breaking Atlantic crossing aboard a Virgin mega motorboat. He made the first transatlantic hot-air balloon trip in Virgin Atlantic Flyer, then a 6,761-mile jaunt from Japan to a nasty crash in the Canadian Yukon. Branson's last challenge was a 1999 attempt to balloon around the globe nonstop. Heading east, he made it from Morocco to Hawaii. When a rival Swiss team succeeded soon after, Branson was at a loss for new records worth pursuing.

Since then, the nearest thing he's had to a grand adventure revolves around Virgin Atlantic Global Flyer, a giant white gull of a plane being readied in one of Rutan's hangars for the first solo nonstop flight around the world, scheduled for January. Slight problem: Branson isn't a pilot. Instead, his buddy Steve Fossett will go for the record, with Branson listed as his backup. "Steve's an extreme human," Branson says. "I'm quite sure he won't be sick."

But Global Flyer turned out to be the start of something a lot bigger. In 2003, a Virgin pilot visiting Mojave to check on the new plane's progress spotted Rutan's SpaceShipOne, then still under wraps. Bells went off when word reached headquarters in London; almost a decade before, Virgin had quietly registered with the British government to use the company name for a space tourism business. Branson asked Rutan who owned the ship, but Rutan kept mum; Paul Allen had sworn him to secrecy. When the project went public last spring - and with an X Prize attempt looming - Rutan swung into gear.

"Burt was worried stiff," Branson says. "He thought Paul might drop the project after they won. Paul doesn't run airlines; he's a technologist. Burt urged me to pick up the baton." Rutan remembers things differently. He says he "wasn't looking" for a new backer but adds: "I know of no one who is better qualified and better motivated to do this than Sir Richard."

Billionaire jostling ensued over where the two principals would meet: Branson's private island? Allen's 413-foot yacht? They finally sat down in London last May. Soon Rutan joined the talks, which culminated in the announcement of a preliminary agreement just two days before SpaceShipOne's first X Prize flight in September. Branson opened his London news conference with a huge grin: "Well, we're going to space."

Branson likes to boast that Virgin is "the best place in the world to work and have fun doing it." Exhibit A: Alex Tai, Virgin Atlantic Airbus captain, Virgin Galactic chief pilot designate, and the space venture's acting program director. A 36-year-old former RAF flier, Tai did a stint shuttling wealthy Middle Easterners before he joined Virgin as a pilot in 1995. On one flight, Branson popped his head into the cockpit, looking for advice on possible balloon launching sites in North Africa. Tai suggested an airstrip he knew in Morocco. Branson liked the idea, and Tai's reward was to fly the chase plane, a sideline that became one of his regular duties for Branson's ballooning exploits.

Today Tai is piloting a rented yellow Mustang convertible from Mojave to LA after a round of meetings with Rutan's design team. He does the run from the desert to Los Angeles International Airport on autopilot; he has spent the past six months bouncing among Rutan's shop, LAX, Allen's offices in Seattle, and Virgin's London headquarters. Tai is not quite Virgin Galactic's CEO - send résumés to Virgin Management Ltd., London - but he's flying point on the only really critical mission right now, working with Scaled Composites to transform its X Prize-winning prototype into a luxury spaceship capable of carrying a stream of high-net-worth individuals safely into space and back.

Some of the issues Tai is working out are basic, starting with how many paying astronauts Virgin's ships will carry. Rutan's team puts the range between five and eight. The trick is to balance revenue per flight against passenger experience: Will people pay a fortune to view the stars in a packed minibus? But there's no question about one thing: Everyone gets a window seat.

There's also the weighty question of what the passengers will wear. "People who are going to be astronauts want space suits," Branson says. But Rutan, the less-is-more engineer, is holding out for SpaceShipOne's "shirtsleeve" environment. Thick suits, he says, would take the fun out of going weightless. "The flight is too brief to be encumbered by those awful things. Better to put the entire cabin in one big space suit, with double windows, walls, and door seals."

Tai has the calm-voiced captain's job of charting a course between these two forces of nature. "We're looking at all the possible configurations," he says diplomatically. "We have to keep our eye on the ball: passenger experience."

One experience no one needs is fiery death. "Everyone involved knows that one incident can put the whole business in deep trouble," Tai says. "Burt has designed and built nearly 300 planes during his career, and he has never lost one due to aircraft failure. SpaceShipOne was conceived as a passenger ship from day one. Safety isn't an add-on."

Take the X Prize winner's hybrid engine. Traditional rocket motors use volatile liquid or solid propellants that can explode at the slightest spark. Rutan's design combines both approaches, resulting in an engine that's more stable and easier to control. The liquid component is compressed nitrous oxide - laughing gas. The solid is basically tire rubber, guaranteed not to blow up no matter how hard you whack it. "Burt has golf balls made out of the stuff," Tai says. "This is the safest rocket engine in the world."

SpaceShipOne's "shuttlecock" design adds an extra measure of safety. When the craft reaches its airless apogee, it hinges (feathers, in pilotspeak) into a broad V shape that automatically brakes the descent. "It lets you take an averagely competent pilot - like me - and throw anything you can think of at him, and still have everyone aboard get away safely," Tai explains. "The space shuttle does that with all sorts of fantastically complex systems. Burt's brilliance is that his ship uses smart design and the laws of physics. Which are, in fact, the only ways you can be truly drop-dead safe."

Tai pulls the Mustang off Wilshire Boulevard for a 40-minute flyby with Buzz Aldrin, the guy who was there to snap the photo when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon. Aldrin is part of a kitchen cabinet Branson is assembling to tap the broader aerospace community. The Apollo veteran works in a gleaming seventh-floor home office packed with enough lunar memorabilia to fill a small museum, including a Buzz Aldrin GI Joe. Like a lot of the first-generation space crowd, he's slightly amazed at the excitement over suborbital flights. It's easy to see where his heart is. "Burt's feathering mechanism doesn't get us back from orbit," he points out. "It either has to evolve, or we need other options."

Tai's final stop is the air-crew hotel near LAX, where he'll nap for a few hours. Then he'll climb into an Airbus cockpit and pilot a couple of hundred Virgin Atlantic passengers on the red eye to London. "Flying the plane saves buying me a seat," he says, as if it's the most obvious thing in the world.

Will Whitehorn is barking orders into a cell phone. Standing in the lobby of a sleek London hotel, he wears a black leather jacket and carries a flame-red helmet. What he calls "my office scooter," a hulking 650-cc Honda Deauville, is parked outside. At 44, the former North Sea oil-rig helicopter crewman is Virgin's group director of brand development, which usually translates as Branson's right hand. Whitehorn swears that's an exaggeration. "Richard has a lot of right hands," he says. "Left ones, too."

Branson himself has a different take. "Behind my back, our directors call me Dr. Yes," Branson says. "Their name for him is Will Lightyear."

It was Whitehorn who registered the idea of a Virgin space-travel company back in 1995. Four years later, amid talks with a now-defunct Mojave outfit called Rotary Rockets, he and Branson took the next step, trademarking the name Virgin Galactic. They also toyed with sponsoring the X Prize but realized they could avoid risk and save money by waiting in the wings until a winner emerged. "The X Prize was going to either produce an answer to suborbital flight or prove it couldn't be done," Whitehorn says. "Paul Allen de-risked what might have been a very hairy project."

Among Whitehorn's other contributions is a neat bit of business jargon, "branded venture capital." The phrase describes what Virgin does: fund and launch companies that can benefit from the group's accumulated experience and shrewd application of the Virgin logo. From an 80-person West London headquarters only a short stroll from Branson's town house, Virgin Management controls nearly 200 companies organized in a dozen major groups, with a total of 50,000 employees. Branson and a small group of other shareholders fund new businesses from a $600 million war chest fed by profits, sales of mature assets, and IPOs. Three Virgin companies are on stock exchanges in the UK, Belgium, and Australia, a number Whitehorn says could triple over the next several years, starting with Virgin Mobile's US offshoot in fall 2005. "We're like a little investment bank with a marketing department," he explains.

Virgin Galactic has the potential to be more than just the latest addition to the portfolio. "We've been looking for a flagship company for the 21st century," Whitehorn says, "especially for the US." The trans-Atlantic reference is no minor detail. Virgin Mobile found a sweet spot selling pay-as-you-go cell phones to young Americans who don't want long-term contracts. Still, overall, the US accounts for only 10 percent of Virgin Group's global revenue. So next in line is a low-cost, high-frills airline, Virgin America (Whitehorn calls it "JetBlue with business class"). Even much-maligned Virgin Cola will be getting a new US push.

"Galactic will put the Virgin brand on the American map in a way money can't buy," Whitehorn says. "It will cost us $100 million to take people to space. Vodafone is spending $100 million putting decals on Formula One racing cars. Every time someone mentions space travel, they'll mention Virgin."

Of course, Vodafone's racers don't have to reckon with the FAA. Virgin Galactic opens up a Pandora's box of questions about how to regulate commercial spaceflight. A bill in Washington that would authorize suborbital flights on an "experimental" basis and establish liability guidelines passed the House by 402 to 1 last spring. (The sole opponent was Texas libertarian Ron Paul, who opposes regulating space travel and pretty much everything else.) A similar bill bogged down in the Senate over precisely what constitutes a spacecraft and whether the experimental era should have a time limit.

"We're not too worried," Whitehorn says. "Who's going to want to come out and say, 'Branson can't be allowed to take people into space'?"

If no one is stopping him, certainly others would like to get there, too. The Russians are already selling seats on Soyuz rockets. What about Disney? "Walt would have done this in a heartbeat," Whitehorn says. "I don't think the current bunch are up to it." The big airlines? "You're joking! British Air couldn't keep Concorde going." Whitehorn is more respectful toward the rest of the embryonic commercial space crowd - Rutan's Mojave neighbor XCOR, John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace, Jeff Bezos' supersecret Blue Origins. "We wish them nothing but the best," he says. "Does anyone seriously think space will be a monopoly?"

But Virgin Galactic's first job is just to make space a profitable business. "Everybody's saying, 'Go straight to orbit,' or 'Build space hotels,'" Whitehorn observes. "We're saying, you can sit around talking about that that for 30 years. You already have. What we really have to do is prove that it works with the public."

Whitehorn wouldn't be a Branson hand if he didn't add a note of swagger. "We need 3,000 people over five years," he says. "We've already registered four times that number on our Web site. People are throwing checks at us."

Oscar Wilde once remarked, "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." Branson is no bard, but it's hard to avoid the sense that he's going into this project at least a little, well, starry-eyed.

The huge advantage of being Richard Branson is that you can strap engines to your dreams. "My father will be 90 when he goes into space with us three years from now," he says, taking a break in the lobby of a West Hollywood hotel. "What a way to end your life! And I'm sure we'll get to orbit. Imagine sitting up there in a bubble window, watching Argentina drift between your legs."

Why stop there? "I hope we'll get to the moon in my lifetime. The first baby born there - what country will it be a citizen of? Maybe we can put a Virgin bank in space, or maybe a Virgin tax haven. We could pay for all our people to go up there just by depositing their money." Now, that's adventure capitalism!

The simple fact is that going into space gives Branson a chance to do what a lot of massively successful guys wish they could do: grab the wheel of history and tug. Opening the final frontier to private citizens will ensure Branson's place in the human saga. And if that means fleets of Virgin spaceships soaring through the inky void, serving sip-packs of Virgin Cola on the way to the latest Virgin Clubhouse, so be it. "Space is virgin territory," Branson says, trying out a prospective marketing line and shooting another grin. "Is that 21st-century enough for you?"

Surviving Space Camp

by WilMcCarthy

When I was 3 years old, my father sat me down in front of the family TV during the first moon launch and said, "Never forget this." I didn't, and since then I've been stewing for my turn. With Virgin Galactic's liftoff just three years away, I decided to start my training with a trip to Space Camp.

The Advanced Space Academy, an adjunct of the NASA installation in Huntsville, Alabama, is a legendary rite of passage for geeky kids - and, increasingly, their parents. For just under $1,000, Space Camp delivers a five-day program that promises to make an astronaut out of even the lamest desk jockey. So here I am, Elton John's "Rocket Man" playing in my head as my plane lands in Huntsville. If I've got the right stuff, I'll know soon enough.


Did I get off the bus at Sesame Street? The academy's literature refers to "trainees," but counselors Phil Willingham and Lenny Bhullar keep calling me and my 11 teammates "campers." At the orientation meeting, Willingham hands out dorky-looking flight suits covered with fake mission patches and pockets in all the wrong places. "You're required to wear these during your missions," he says in an Alabama accent, clearly quoting a script he reads to hundreds of children every summer.

After a bland cafeteria meal, the counselors herd everyone into a room containing a multiaxis trainer - a chair suspended within an assembly made up of concentric rings, one for each axis of rotation. Willingham turns the thing on to demonstrate the chaotic tumbling of the chair, where each of us is fated to spend a few agonizing minutes. This is a gut check, preparing would-be astronauts for the rigors ahead. "But we've just eaten dinner," someone complains. Willingham smiles. "Your stomach is your center of mass," he says. "It doesn't really move."

When my turn comes, I strap in, grit my teeth, and keep my eyes open as the room starts to jerk and tumble around me. As the machine ramps up to full speed, I'm relieved to find Willingham is right: It's not nearly as sickening as it looks.


I'm orbiting Earth at last. Rather than outer space, though, I'm in a fake space shuttle on an elaborate simulation floor. The area holds four realistic shuttle replicas and half a dozen space station modules, beneath a jet-black sky dominated by a photo of planet Earth the size of a three-story house.

I'm learning how to repair a satellite that hangs over the shuttle on a chain. I slip on a white space suit, connect myself to a safety line, and climb out onto the shuttle's robot arm - actually a cherry picker from a telephone truck. Pressing buttons to guide the arm, I swing up to the satellite. Following the service checklist, I replace two defective antennas and make my way back to the crew compartment.


It's time for the centrifuge - a rotating shaft with a swiveling arm that ends in a two-seat cockpit. Once it spins up to 3.2 g, I'm supposed to reach up and press buttons. It's not easy. I can't lift my legs, and my arms feel like they've got 6-year-olds hanging from them. There's a weight on my chest, too, making it difficult to breathe. But I feel the most pressure on my throat, which seems like it's being squeezed.

Later, it hits me: If I can work this button under heavier-than-shuttle g-forces, then I can pilot the real thing. Me.


Today we fly four 60-minute shuttle missions. We manage the first two without incident. But on the third flight, Bhullar, who runs the simulation from a workstation tucked away in a separate room, makes things go haywire. Red caution and warning lights suddenly show up on our screens. By the middle of the fourth mission, it's all we can do to keep the right program running in the flight computer.

A few days ago we were reading canned lines and flipping switches according to a script, but today we're learning - under fire - how to turn on backup systems, run diagnostic tests, clear a garbled memory. The elaborate protocols for dealing with problems make the point clearly enough: The shuttle is not an easy bird to fly.


I'm up an hour early, feeling amped and a little bit nervous. Today is the final test: a six-hour Extended Duration Mission. What a disappointment, then, to be stuck on the ground this time, at Mission Control.

Willingham and Bhullar start throwing wrenches in the gears before we've even launched. Not only are there unfamiliar switches to flip, arcane systems to activate, and heretofore unknown manuals to page through, but the counselors silently pass out mysterious handwritten notes. When Bhullar holds one in my face - "You have food poisoning" - my stomach sinks for real.

From my perch in the control room, I can see every part of the shuttle through a video monitor above my console. I spy Willingham creeping around up there, playing Mr. Zero G: Any unstowed gear on the orbiter quickly "floats away" in his hands. The funny part is, I watch a drifting headset and barely notice the counselor smirking behind it.

But another surprising development has crept in here; I've begun to develop a sense that, like the flight deck and cargo bay, Mission Control is just one more compartment aboard the ship. In fact, it's the bridge. It dawns on me that the shuttle's commander is really just another crew member; the actual captain of the voyage is ... me!

The difficulties escalate in frog-boiling fashion, bit by bit, so I don't notice how hot the water is getting. Suddenly we're fighting back three serious anomalies at the same time - and winning. Through deorbit, reentry, and landing, we bring the ship down in one piece. Then it's high fives all around. We did it.

Sappy though it sounds, you really do get wistful when it's time to leave a place like this. Somewhere inside we're all graduates of Hogwarts or Star Fleet Academy, but this place, despite its cheese factor, is more real than either of those. I'm going to miss the challenges, teamwork, and rusting Saturn Vs on the lawn. If I ever do get to outer space, I'll look down at Huntsville and wave.

Contributing writer Wil McCarthy ( wrote about low-temperature surgery in issue 12.05.

Flying High

Branson's nearly 200 companies are worth $9 billion.

Here's a sampling of some of his holdings:


Virgin Blue / Australian airline / $2.5 billion

Virgin Atlantic / International airline / $2 billion

Virgin Rail / Railroad / $878.6 million

Virgin Mobile / Telecom provider / $872 million

Virgin Express / European airline / $259.9 million

Victory Clothing / Apparel designer / $119 million

Virgin.Net / Internet service provider / $37.9 million

Radio Free Virgin / Digital broadcaster / N/A*

Ulusaba / African game reserve / N/A

Virgin Brides / Wedding apparel retailer / N/A

Virgin Experience Days / "Ultimate experiences" / N/A

Virgin Games / Online gaming provider / N/A

Virgin Limobike / Motorcycle chauffeur / N/A

Virgin Unite / Charitable organization / N/A

Virginware / Lingerie designer / N/A

Sources: Hoover's, Yahoo! Finance, Figures represent most recent year available.

*Privately held; revenue figures not available.

Contributing editor Spencer Reiss ( wrote about Chinese nuclear reactors in issue 12.09.

Re:Article text (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315609)

You stupid fucking cunt! I missed first post because of you! FUCKING WANKER!

Re:Article text (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315646)

No, you missed first post because you're a PATHETIC FUCKING LOSER!

Re:Article text (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315722)


asdfnasfafafwefaewasdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasfasdfasd fa sdfasdfasdfasfasdfasewasdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasfasdfa sdfasdfasdfasdfasfasdfasewasdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasfa sdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasfasdfas

Re:Article text (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315832)

sorry i'm drunk, i withdraw the previous post. Apologies to all, and good tidings to all men.

time to cash in my air miles (2, Funny)

ddurdle (803709) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316213)

Do they take air miles?

Re:Article text (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11316540)

Someone should mod this down. It's got a profane comment to michael spelled out in bold letters scattered throughout it.

FP (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315576)


Re:FP (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315615)

Not from where I sit, lame-o.

Re:FP (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315632)


boring (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315579)


Booyah! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315580)

Does this make him a member of the 600-mile high club?

Re:Booyah! (1)

Alien Being (18488) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315859)

... to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Re:Booyah! (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315867)

Where'd you get 600 miles from? That'd put him well past ISS even, and start getting you into some dangerous radiation.

Weird's coverage is much better. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315583)

What a minute...there's no magazine called Weird, is there?

If only... (4, Funny)

dutt (738848) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315585)

If only Branson would take a virgin into space... what bliss.

Virgin? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315586)

anyone else besides me take a double-take at that article title?

Don't think so... (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315588)

...any chance of a volume discount?

No, fatass -- in fact, you're gonna have to pay extra.

Re:Don't think so... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315756)


The call went to Virgin!! Could Mr Jai Bindi [] have been prophetic?

Virgins in Space? (4, Funny)

earthforce_1 (454968) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315589)

Sounds like a promising XXX title. :)

Re:Virgins in Space? (2, Funny)

Joe the Lesser (533425) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315679)

More likely they're just ensuring only true geeks are allowed on the ship.

Re:Virgins in Space? (1)

entrager (567758) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315685)

At least give credit where credit's due. "Virgin's in space" [] was the catch-phrase for Virgin Galactic that one of the teams came up with in a recent episode of The Rebel Billionaire [] (Yes, I watch it. I also watch The Apprentice, want to make something of it?).

Then why are MILFs so popular? (1)

mosel-saar-ruwer (732341) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315824)




Enter cognitive dissonance, stage left.

Re:Virgins in Space? (1)

bryan986 (833912) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315910)

Sounds like the next james bond epic

Slashdotters (5, Funny)

thegoofy (301855) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315591)

No, Slashdotters... he didn't take one of YOU into space... they are referring to a company in the article.

Re:Slashdotters (1)

Almond Paste (838493) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316064)

No, Slashdotters... he didn't take one of YOU into space... they are referring to a company in the article. You mean us.

Article title (2, Funny)

coug_ (63333) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315596)

[i]Sir Richard takes Virgin into Space[/i]

Where did he find manage to find a real Virgin?

Thanks... I'll be here all week.

Re:Article title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315648)

This is not orkut !!

Re:Article title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315652)

Grade 8 students (Junior high juniors, to you americans).

Re:Article title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315653)

Where did he find manage to find a real Virgin?

The guy that posted right before you answered that.

Re:Article title (1)

KiloByte (825081) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315668)

It's trivial to find a male virgin.

But if you meant a female one, ...

Re:Article title (2, Funny)

eclectro (227083) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315738)

Where did he find manage to find a real Virgin?

The Virgin had a choice of being tossed in the volcano or going on the rocketship.
Standing at the edge of the volcano, she chose the latter.

I'm sorry that you are going to have to browse at -1 to see this post.

Could have been funnier (1)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315816)

Dick to take Virgin into Orbit.

Try the veal. :D

The Linux revolution is losing steam (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315597)

The Linux Revolution Is Dying

In light of the disastrous 2.6 development model that has given sysadmins everywhere a headache by introducing development code into a production line, Linux has signed its own death knell. With more and more people looking to alternatives like FreeBSD 5.x, OS X, and DragonflyBSD, Linux is slowly shovelling the dirt beneath its feet to dig its own grave.

Linux And Windows

Quite simply, the revolution against Windows has run out of steam. While Linux was a viable alternative in the days of Windows 98, when the rallying cry of geeks everywhere was "Down with M$, Linux never crashes," we now have the majority of the Windows userbase running NT-based operating systems. Except in cases of hardware or driver issues, reliability is no longer an issue in the comparison between Linux and Windows.

Eventually, the movement became one of security. In the years after its release, Windows XP was discovered to have several high-profile security flaws. Microsoft underwent a major code audit and released SP2. The rallying cry for OSS was now about security.

However, the community has discovered major flaws in the Mozilla software suite, including bugs marked "confidential" for years at a time. Additionally, major security holes have been appearing in the 2.6 line of Linux kernels, some having existed for years and affecting the 2.4 line. Declaring Linux to be the secure alternative is no longer as true.

Worst of all, the Linux kernel developers have no clear process, nor any clear contact person, when it comes to security issues.


Evidence: Long-time shell-provider SDF used Linux until they got hacked into. Now, it's a 64-bit version of NetBSD.

The New Linux Development Model

With the 2.6 line of kernels, a new model has been adopted that is considered easier for the kernel developers. Instead of branching a 2.7 line, following the model of odd-numbered version numbers denoting development code, everything is now being thrown into 2.6.

"Not all 2.6.x kernels will be good; but if we do releases every 1 or 2 weeks, some of them *will* be good. The problem with the -rc releases is that we try to predict in advance which releases in advance will be stable, and we don't seem to be able to do a good job of that. If we do a release every week, my guess is that at least 1 in 3 releases will turn out to be stable enough for most purposes. But we won't know until after 2 or 3 days which releases will be the good ones." -- Ted T'So

In other words, this Linux kernel developer believes it is perfectly fine for one in three kernels of the stable line to actually be stable. The new development process is anti-user. "Release early, release often" has outlived its reliability and applicability to the real world.

The excuse given is that Linus is only one man, and there are only 24 hours in a day. If that is true, than Linus needs to address this shortcoming of the process; otherwise, the process is poorly managed.

The Community Has Regurgitated Itself

In a frenzy of newbies, the Linux community has grown, with Slashdot as its rallying center. The cycle of self-feeding groupthink has created a userbase unable to see outside its own perceptions. This leads to unrealistic attitudes about the safety and stability of Linux and its applicability to various solutions.

Contrast to the BSD community which employs a more academic approach. Instead of a cabal of kernel elite who pick and choose patches while the rest of the community watches on, BSD accepts volunteers from all over the world and maintains a calm, rational approach to development and advocacy. BSD users remain quite and non-vocal for the most part, content to simply make their OS the best it can be. The Linux world, on the other hand, is entirely focused on Windows and Bill Gates and leveraging itself with ten different filesystems. Witness the endless mentions of Microsoft Bob, a product that was on the market for less than a year over half a decade ago, intended for children and neophytes on a single-user machine.

A Decade Later And Nothing's Changed

The Linux community is in the unenviable position of being forced to look back on itself after ten years of hype and attempt to justify what it's accomplished. So far, Linux has made inroads in replacing old UNIX servers, just as BSD has. In the desktop market, it has barely made a dent. Before Google Zeitgeist removed its OS numbers, Linux was at a mere 1%. OS X was at 5%. The community, in more self-regurgitation, tells itself that Linux will succeed and even surpass OS X (witness last year's Slashdot article about how Linux usage will pass OS X's within the never happened).

We're still using XFree86, which just recently gained the ability to change its own screen resolution without requiring a configuration file edit and restart. Desktop environments like KDE and GNOME are more interesting in adding more buttons and sidebars rather than implementing a universal API library for development, including binary installation/uninstallation, a universal graphics/sound library for games, and clear interface design that doesn't borrow from Windows while complaining about it. KDE currently implements an integrated file browser/net browser, start menu, taskbar, and more. All popular Windows features. Mono, currently the most promising prospect for a true future desktop Linux, is an implementation of Microsoft technologies.

Linux is heralded by fans as supporting the most devices, but in reality it simply supports more older, fringe hardware while other operating systems support today's modern hardware. As of this writing, Linux still has trouble with basic wireless networking, and the data corruption of the S-ATA driver is being ignored as developers continue to blame the hardware for its issues. Meanwhile, in NetBSD for instance, there are no reported issues with S-ATA.

Netcraft Confirms--Linux Is Dying

Unless major changes are made in both the community and the development process, Linux will remain a niche. It's over ten years later, and Linux is still just a marginal server OS beneath BSD. Fans blind themselves to any flaws because of an obsession over competing with Windows, which leads to groupthink and stagnation. The developers no longer care about the users and sysadmins, creating a development process that has spawned several outright kernel vulnerabilities while ignoring important patches. Meanwhile, technological innovation is made in other areas like OS X (true UNIX and GUI integration) and DragonflyBSD (revamp of core FreeBSD subsystems for performance).

The excuse of being a volunteer project is no longer valid--the real world is about results, not excuses. Making more "M$" jokes might get a +5 Funny on Slashdot. But with the recent trend of vulnerabilities, instability, and difficulties in the development process of Linux 2.6, it's one more deflation of the Linux movement. Linus, get it together!

For a Second there (4, Funny)

fenodyree (802102) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315599)

I thought: Gee, I wish I was that lucky geek!

Re:For a Second there (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315777)

Then you realized his name is Sir Richard and not Lady Richard?

virgin (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315601)

In todays world, you wish you can find a virgin. Haven't he learnt anything from indian public school scandle yet.

boogiea (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315610)

firestss proooooosrt

Allow me to be the first... (2, Funny)

braeburn (837058) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315614)

to comment on one of the most unintentionally funny/"don't editors look at these things before posting" moments on ./ I've seen in a while. Bravo.

Sir Richard takes Virgin into Space (4, Funny)

UnCivil Liberty (786163) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315623)

And on that note let the bad sex jokes begin...

Re:Sir Richard takes Virgin into Space (1)

papadiablo (609676) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315655)

After crushing Sir Richard's fleet of Virgin ships, the Martians are quoted as saying "All your virgins are belong to us."

Re:Sir Richard takes Virgin into Space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315844)

They already did!

About time (1)

MerryGoByeBye (447358) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315637)

Now, when are they gonna cut the novelty crap and make it into a viable transportation alternative? At $200K a pop, that's one hell of a business expense. How much does coach cost?

Re:About time (4, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315665)

Coach only costs $50k, but you have to sit on the outside of the spacecraft.

Re:About time (1)

complete loony (663508) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316145)

The space suit is extra.

Re:About time (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316393)

That's a good point. Suborbital craft aren't really all that special; if one designed suborbital transportation craft instead of a joyride, it might actually be economical for long distances.

Of course, you'd probably want either carry-launch, tow-launch, or a joint jet/rocket hybrid (in such a case, you'd probably be burning kerosene or rp1 in your rocket so you can use the same fuel for your engines without having to reinvent them). Too much of your energy will be expended while in the atmosphere if you don't, and with launches on such a small, simple craft (compared to a rocket of equivalent payload capacity to orbit), fuel will actually be a relevant percentage of your total costs. Plus, keeping the amount of fuel down reduces structural strength requirements by reducing mass, makes for a less dense craft (good for reentry), makes the craft safer, and many other nice effects.

The challenges for suborbital flight are an order magnitude simpler than those for orbital flight, so it should be doable. Your tps (like SS1's) can be completely minimal, by simply selecting frame materials that won't suffer much from the heat. Peak heating of SS1 was just under 600C; this would be higher, but not too much, and there is quite the range of relatively cheap structural materials that you can use. Dealing with heat buildup on aircraft is nothing new - Concorde experienced 127C temperatures in transit - it's just that this is on a larger scale.

Besides, the end of Concorde means that there's no readily available public means of supersonic travel. It seems few will want to again attempt to take the atmospheric route again; an attempt at an exoatmospheric passenger liner seems like the only realistic route. And the transit times are, of course, just great ;)

Naturally, only a very large company would be able to pull this off. "Space Tourism" is one thing, but there's no way that the FAA will sit by and let a passenger craft get launched without a strict set of qualification requirements.

Come on, Slashdot! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315641)

Sir Richard gracing the cover of Wired has been staring at me from the top of my toilet magazine stack for weeks. Good story and all, but not exactly what you could call current.

Re:Come on, Slashdot! (1)

koreaman (835838) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315692)

You're new here, aren't you?
Slashdot is alwaays behind, definitely never what you would call current at any rate.

This just in... (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315660)

Humanity to spread to outer space, before cleaning up the mess it still has on planet Earth. Is it a case of running away from the problem, or spreading the problem to other planets and colonies in the solar system? Rumor has it that terrorist groups are also working on improving their technology so they can explode a satellite outside an geosynchronus nightclub or such.

Virgin into space, eh? (2, Funny)

RLiegh (247921) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315673)

How's he going to manage to get the whole corporation up there?

$200K per ticket?! (1)

beef curtains (792692) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315676)

That's a bit pricey, even by commercial airline standards.

So after the handful of people that are both rich & interested have taken the trip, what's Sir Richard going to do with his space travel business?

Re:$200K per ticket?! (1)

suffe (72090) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316452)

$200k isn't that much. No realy, it isn't. Just imagine how many rich people spend that kind of money on a second, third or n'th car.

"a stor" (1)

delus10n0 (524126) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315682)

a stor?

What's a "stor" ?

Oh, did you mean STORY?

Also, why does Slashdot report on every issue of Wired? If you want to read Wired, then get a subscription!

Re:"a stor" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315709)

A Stor is a Gnome healer...

Re:"a stor" (1)

j0217995 (597878) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316041)

I remember reading my copy right around Christmas time. Talk about old coverage of "news". Maybe we can get more up to date news. I don't understand why Wired stories make Slashdot.

Space Virgins (2, Interesting)

richman555 (675100) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315696)

I don't know, but has anyone ever had sex in space before? I think if that is the case we are all virgins in uncharted territory he,he.. Is anyone willing to go where no man has gone before???

Good question (2, Interesting)

AndreyF (701606) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316275)

Sex in space []

Where can I buy a ticket? (3, Interesting)

IdleTime (561841) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315703)

Going into space has been a dream since I was watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1969.

Paying $200.000 for a trip that has been my dream for over 30 years is cheap, esp compared to the $20.000.000 pricetag for the Russian trip to the space station. it's a bargain and I want one, Seriously!

Re:Where can I buy a ticket? (0)

rzebram (828885) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315751)

I'll sell you one, and while you're at it, how about a nice bridge? I've got a nice bridge I could sell you, if you're iterested.

Re:Where can I buy a ticket? (2, Insightful)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315850)

you do realise that there's quite a difference between a stay at the orbit and a quick leap up and coming down instantly?

Re:Where can I buy a ticket? (1)

JQuick (411434) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315958)

They plan to accept deposits and about 2 years before flights begin. If you want to sign up for an early flight, register on their website and they will send you an email when early reservations begin. []

Re:Where can I buy a ticket? (1)

ThreeE (786934) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316388)

$200 for a trip into space! That's a looooong ways off.

Oh wait, you're from one of those third world sprockets countries that don't use ,s...

is there a wired.slashdot yet? (1, Interesting)

Lawrence_Bird (67278) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315705)

ok go ahead and mark this off topic but what gives with slashdot every month running the majority of the latest wired mag here too? Does /. get paid for it? Wouldn't it be easier to have one post a month 'go look at before we post all their stories here'

not alone (1)

bobalu (1921) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316525)

Well if you're gonna go there, check the # of NY Times articles. All that reg. horseshit aside, I've usually read this stuff in AP News or the NY Times way before it gets through Slashdot. This is not unusual though, there's a lot of cross-feeding in that biz.

It's the sparkling commentary we're here for. :-)

Sir Richard Takes Virgin in to Space (1, Funny)

popo (107611) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315725)

...And back to his homeworld ...where he will use her to breed an army of half-men / half-Bransons to enslave Earth. Mwah hah hah haaaah..., sorry...

Virgin Brides (1)

grahamsz (150076) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315729)

Oddly enough that company appears to have no revenue.....

Come on, enough already! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315776)

What is this? This is like the third story in the past few days lifted from Wired. And it's Old News. It's in this month's printed issue, which I've already read.

Slashdot is morphing into Slashdull.

Umm.. Isn't this (1)

cainskltn (847151) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315781)

a little old? I mean I got this issue a while back. Why the wait slashdot?

Re:Umm.. Isn't this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11316197)

But Wired's a horrible, horrible magazine. I find it better to get the cream (such as it is) of it on /. Plus, I get the benefit of insightful Slashdotter commentary.

I had the misfortune of picking up a US-edition Wired at a train station. It's 95% adverts. It felt like I spent more time flicking through ads than reading the articles. And most of those seemed to be of the 1950's 'gee wizz!' variety.

All gloss, minimal content. No, I don't want to buy a Canyonero.

Boooooring (5, Insightful)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315788)

Just feel the need to point out once again that this is not space travel, as far as I'm concerned.

Space travel is controlled space travel. That means travelling into space, establishing a controlled orbit, and then a controlled descent back to earth. That's space travel.

The Wright Brother's big advance was controlled, powered flight. Lots of people could shoot a projectile from one end of the field to the other, which is all (effectively) that was accomplished by Burt Rutan.

I don't want to be a big, wet blanket here, and I don't want to say nothing has been accomplished; it was a necessary first step. But it ain't space travel. Orbital insertions are two orders of magnitude harder.

I don't want marketing, I want real space travel, and that requires being a little harsh on all the marketing that surrounds this.

Re:Boooooring (0, Flamebait)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315860)

It's more than you did.

Re:Boooooring (1)

Reality Master 101 (179095) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315877)

And your point is what? That I'm not allowed to point out that this is more marketing than space travel because I haven't personally built my own rocket ship?

Does that mean I can't criticize Microsoft unless I've personally built my own multi-billion dollar operating system company?

Re:Boooooring (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315942)

No, it means you need to show a little respect to the people who set out to make it possible for you (an assumably normal person) to fly into space, however briefly. It also means that you need to support these individuals so that they may make bigger and better rocket ships so that they can some day put you into an orbit. Complaining that they havn't done everything you want in one step when you freely admit that it's a damn hard thing to do and have done absolutely nothing yourself is just counterproductive. This goes for making rocket ships or operating systems.

Re:Boooooring (3, Insightful)

Telastyn (206146) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316089)

No offense to you, or the Brothers, but from everything I've read of that "flight" it wasn't much different from shooting Rutan's bird in a large arc...

Things will improve, in a fairly similar way I'd imagine.

Re:Boooooring (1)

ebrandsberg (75344) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316448)

I would agree with you except for one point: They continued and progressed and made it better and reasonable. As a result, if you have to mark a point at the start of the science of flight, you have to say that was a pivotal moment, no matter if the actual flight itself wasn't exactly the best. It proved the idea, which is what the X-Prize was made to do. Now is when the fun REALLY begins.

Re:Boooooring (1)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316110)

I don't know about that. I'm not sure I'd want my trip to be as dull and controlled as a trip on a 747. These days when you fly somewhere it's about the destination, not about the trip.

Personally I think sitting on the top of a big rocket type thing sounds pretty exciting as travel for travels sake goes. As long as I had a few moments to look down at the earth from a long way away then I think I'd find the destination worthwhile too.
I want real space travel, and that requires being a little harsh on all the marketing that surrounds this.
Yeah, I'm sure it helps a great deal.

Re:Boooooring (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316297)

That is part of my complaint about how the X-Prize foundation is treating this accomplishment by scaled composites: They have decided to turn the X-Prize into something like NASCAR... very artificial and only having very indirect relationships with the actual vehicles that they proportedly help to advance.

Like NASCAR, they will be advancing things like engine performance and safety, but the goals are for things that people will not be using in everyday life.

When the X-Prize was first announced, it was like "Hey, I might actually be able to be on that missile when it goes up". And to give Richard Branson at least some credit, the commercialization of sub-orbital flight (as opposed to supersonic flight) might turn out to be something positive in the long run. In this respect he is helping to blur the lines between ordinary airplanes and exotic spacecraft that otherwise have a very sharp distinction right now.

Rutan and the others are all shooting for LEO now as a long-term goal, but I hope they don't get too distracted by these short-term profits. As you and other dissenters of these efforts have pointed out, there are some huge obsticles to overcome in order to get into a stable controlled orbit.

On the other hand, I think incremental progress can be made with space vehicles now, rather than relying on whole new concepts like has driven the space industry so far. There is a world of difference between Apollo, Soyuz, and the Shuttle systems, and no real way to bring to cost of any of these systems in their present configuration to make commercial spaceflight a practical reality. That is the one very practical contribution that the X-Prize has made so far, even though I seem them dropping the ball now that they've made the first goal.

Re:Boooooring (1)

Pastis (145655) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316418)

Controlled space travel, like with a HAL computer? Forget about it. Go first. I've seen the movie :)

Re:Boooooring (3, Insightful)

brucehoult (148138) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316546)

Orbital insertions are two orders of magnitude harder.

No, orbital insertions require nearly 10 times the speed (or 100 times more energy). That doesn't mean that they are 100 times harder, and certainly not 100 times more expensive.

Getting out of the atmosphere is the hard part. Once you're in vacuum all you need to do is burn more fuel, for longer. That's easy, and fuel is cheap. And manage the reentry, which we also know how to do.

Yes, this is jus a first step, but it's a lot further towards going orbital than you seem to think.

And once you're in orbit ... you're halfway to *anywhere* :-)

The Wright Brother's big advance was controlled, powered flight.

Actually, it was mostly the "controlled" part. They flew gliders before they flew powered aircraft, and they went back to gliders afterwards and had ten and thirty minute glider flights before they ever flew for that long in a powered aircraft.

One of Burt Rutan's big accomplishments with SS1 is in fact a way to safely control the reentry with the "feathering" tail.

surly bonds' of the atmosphere (1)

Anne_Nonymous (313852) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315794)

>'surly bonds' of the atmosphere

1. I think the biggest bond to the planet is gravity, not friction.

2. Why would the "bonds" be described [] as sullen ill-humored, threatening, or arrogant?

Re:surly bonds' of the atmosphere (1)

Dark Demon (575498) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315868)

Maybe it's a reference to the less popular Mi6 agent 0069?

Re:surly bonds' of the atmosphere (1)

ikkonoishi (674762) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316170)


High Flight
by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds...and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of...wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up, the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew.
And while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space...
...put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Re:surly bonds' of the atmosphere (1)

kzinti (9651) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316261)

Surly is one of the Seven Duffs. Thus, "Surly bonds" is clearly a subtle reference to drunken S&M games like those shown in the episode "Marge's Little Dungeon of Horror" from the bootleg Simpsons Director's Cut that's currently making the rounds on Kazaa.

Costs in perspective (4, Insightful)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315821)

From the article:

But look at the upside. The total price tag [for Virgin Galactic] is half the cost of a single Airbus A340-600 - and Virgin Atlantic ordered 26 of those last summer. In return, Branson gets bragging rights to one of the cooler breakthroughs of the early 21st century, with rocket-powered marketing opportunities that could fuel excitement - and sales - in his entire 200-company holding group.

People often complain about how much stuff like this supposedly costs, but it's interesting to see what a small amount it is compared to how much is typically thrown around in the airline industry. The marketing value alone is probably worth the cost of the fleet.

Re:Costs in perspective (2, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315955)

Yeah, and with good maintainance you'll get ~40,000 takeoff and landing cycles with that A340-600, and it usually carries around 380 passengers. You do the math.

The article is right, though - look at all the exposure it's gotten Virgin on Slashdot alone ;) All he did was fund a small venture with relatively moderate accomplishments, and he gets two articles a week for the next two years. ;)

I can't be the only one... (0, Redundant)

andalay (710978) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315828)

... who thought someone got deflowered in space.

Wired has a stor (4, Funny)

stor (146442) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315831)

...but Slashdot has the original


So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315872)

... a virgin in space, eh? So which Slashdotter is going?

Virgin done in space by Sir Richard (0, Redundant)

Core-Dump (148342) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315881)

Sir Richard takes Virgin into Space

Sjeez... some guys get all the luck.. lemme guess when she returns she's not a virgin anymore and will say to the press "it was like heaven"

Wired subscribers have seen all these a while ago (2, Interesting)

artifex2004 (766107) | more than 9 years ago | (#11315891)

I really wish /. would make a section just for Wired article reposting, so those of us who read them already can ignore these when they dribble out a couple weeks after we get them via snail mail.

WTF (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11315900)

Sounds like a bad Japanese Hentai Title: "Sir Richard takes a virgin 3"

Wow, someone's having a field day with this... (2, Funny)

mOoZik (698544) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316018)

VIRGINS in space, from the BLASTING OFF department? Hah!

The Rebel Billionaire (1)

SteelV (839704) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316047)

I saw on Branson's (failure of a ) reality show that the contestants made commercials for Virgin Galactic, but I have yet to see them on TV. I think he thought they were too horrible to use, or perhaps didn't want to spend the money and considered his reality show to be, essentially, a free commercial.

Re:The Rebel Billionaire (1)

mOoZik (698544) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316095)

Why is it a failure? Because it isn't "The Apprentice" or a similar knockoff?

So, how many referrals do you need for this? (1)

ewanrg (446949) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316068)

I'm just wondering how many referrals you'd need for his obviously upcoming ""...

Wait a second...


Watch me prove I'm clueless here []

Virgin? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11316121)

More like Dirty Whore!

Discount? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#11316176)

Any chance of a volume discount

Yes, but fat people pay extra.

fogetting his duties as a knight (1)

Neward Rylet (634838) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316333)

Sir Richard Branson has his way with virgin in space! How vile! I thought knights were supposed to protect maidens!

better get.... (1)

MoFoQ (584566) | more than 9 years ago | (#11316518)

better get super miles for my mileage card...or a free "escort" service with that $200k price tag.
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