Why We Go
Exploring space makes life better on Earth
People all around the world have experienced a sense of awe as they look up at the night sky. We discover a limitless universe of wonder as we learn to identify the Milky Way, or to spot planets, rings, moons, and even entire galaxies. As we peer into the heavens we look back billions of years in time, and connect simultaneously with the most primal thoughts of our ancestors and the most cutting-edge science of our day.
Sending humans and satellites into space requires effort, money, dedication, and sacrifice. In an imperfect world with pressing and important problems, some people ask why space is worth it.
It’s a reasonable question. Just don’t expect a single answer! After all, space is nearly infinite, and that boundless expanse gives us so many reasons to explore space.
Modern life would be unrecognizable without satellites. Meteorologists make life-saving weather predictions. Humanitarian organizations track the movements of genocidal military forces and coordinate relief efforts after national disasters. Farmers improve crop yields, and governments monitor and prevent illegal fishing and logging. Scientists and policy makers learn the answers to key questions about our planet’s climate.
But satellites are not sufficient: we as a species also dare to push new boundaries. Perhaps it is in our culture, perhaps it is in our DNA, or perhaps it is a bit of each of those, but we humans seem hardwired to explore. Not all of us feel it, but so many people today and in the past have felt an irresistible urge to see for themselves what lies just beyond the horizon.
And we are grateful that they have. Explorers make great discoveries, find new places to settle, and identify resources that benefit their sisters and brothers who stayed at home. The explorers of the space frontier are doing the same thing. By sending humans to space, we as a species have learned incredible things about human ingenuity and human physiology. Space exploration has inspired generations of entrepreneurs, inventors, ordinary citizens, and entire new industries.
Only through the exploration of the unknown can we continue to grow and evolve. Space is not only important for the future of transportation, commerce, and science; it’s also important for the future of imagination. We still know so little about space and how our understanding of it can benefit life on our planet. What is clear is that the ability for more people to cross the final frontier of space will be key to human advancement.
The astronauts have also found themselves transformed by their journeys. Many have experienced something called the Overview Effect as they look back at our home world. Seeing the Earth from space, they notice that most of the borders we fight over are imaginary lines, or that our atmosphere seems like an impossibly thin and fragile layer of protection for life as we know it. The experience is a profound and fundamentally personal one, but its magnitude cannot be denied.
However, very few people have ever experienced this effect themselves. Throughout all of human history, only about 550 people have ever visited space. This means that not only have most of us never been to space, most of us have never even met someone else who can tell us about the experience. Human spaceflight has tremendous value in inspiring and educating our society, but that value is limited because flights have been so rare.
Those few, fortunate astronauts, cosmonauts, and taikonauts who have flown also do not represent the astounding diversity of humanity. Government astronauts have tended to be similar to each other: historically, they have very little diversity in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, language, or professional background. If few people have ever met an astronaut, even fewer have met an astronaut to whom they can truly relate, who looks and sounds like they do.
That is about to change. The roughly 700 Virgin Galactic future astronauts who have already paid deposits for their flights on SpaceShipTwo come from more than 50 different countries, about half of which have never before sent a human to space. They span in age from under 10 to over 90 years of age. They practice many professions and speak many languages.
In the near future, our astronauts will share their version of the Overview Effect with audiences who have never dreamed of hearing it and who will go on to be the innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. Some of them may even earn the scholarships offered by the Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut community through Galactic Unite.
Our Vision of the Future
Tomorrow will be better than today
As the world’s first spaceline, we are by our very nature futuristic. Although we’re focused on getting SpaceShipTwo and LauncherOne into commercial service, those two projects are also a start towards even greater things.
We believe that in the future, life on Earth will be made better by the exploration of space. Children inspired by meeting and relating to astronauts from their communities will grow up to start new businesses and found new companies. Students who fly suborbital experiments while still in school will have an enormous head start on their careers, gaining experience that the current generation of leaders didn’t have until they had been in the workforce for decades. Companies and organizations that launch small satellites will deliver important data and help saves lives and identify new resources.
Here at Virgin Galactic, we’ll still be hard at work to further open the space frontier. Someday, we’ll have learned so much from flying SpaceShipTwo and LauncherOne that we can retire those vehicles and debut SpaceShipThree and LauncherTwo, and so on and so forth. While it’s far too soon to say what those vehicles will look like or even what they will do, our founder is particularly fond of the idea of hypersonic point-to-point transportation, using a mix of SpaceShipTwo and LauncherOne fundamental technologies.
What seems almost certain, though, is that the things that most inspire us fifty years from now will be ideas no one has even considered yet today. We know first hand that space exploration has a uniquely powerful ability to spark the imagination and to motivate the next generation of leaders. Beyond all of the concrete and near-term benefits of human spaceflight and of small satellite launch, what we are most excited about is perhaps exactly that: the power and freedom of imagination.