Each year, the Space Symposium, hosted in Colorado Springs by the Space Foundation, brings together the top leaders, innovators, experts, and engineers from across the space ecosystem. It’s an opportunity to examine space issues from multiple perspectives, promote dialogue, showcase innovation, and focus attention on critical industry issues. And it’s a time to celebrate our shared successes
Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award
On Monday, I had the honor of accepting the Space Foundation’s Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award on behalf of the incredible team at Virgin Galactic. The award is named in memory of the late Douglas S. Morrow, renowned Academy Award winning writer and producer, space advocate and former Space Foundation board member – and it recognizes efforts to increase public awareness and understanding of space programs and technology.
To me, that is what 2021 was all about. Last year alone saw five commercial human spaceflights carry 24 passengers to space. Our own Unity 22 mission made history as the first crewed spaceflight by a commercial company. The level of public interest and excitement in this progress is palpable. To date, more than 31 million people have watched the livestream and video clips of our Unity 22 crew floating around the cabin in zero gravity.
That’s because what we are doing speaks to the deep-rooted human desire to explore, to reach higher and to see further than ever before. Opening space opens the imagination. And receiving this award affirms our vision for the world’s first commercial spaceline that breaks down the walls to progress, deepens our understanding of the world and brings us closer together through a shared experience.
FAA Astronaut Wings Awarded to Unity 22 Crew
We were also proud to see members of our first fully crewed spaceflight, the Unity 22 mission last July, receive their FAA astronaut wings.
Three of our mission specialists, Sirisha Bandla, Colin Bennett and Sir Richard Branson, were awarded wings by Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation Kelvin Coleman in an evening ceremony we hosted on Tuesday.
Our fourth mission specialist, Beth Moses, and our incredible Unity 22 pilots, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, had already received their astronaut wings at the Space Symposium in 2019.
The six Unity 22 crew members hold a special place in history. Not just as astronauts or as pioneers of the early commercial space industry, but as ambassadors who are giving voice to the unimaginable wonder of space. In doing so, they are inspiring the next generation of dreamers. The wings ceremony gave us a moment to reflect on the experience, almost nine months on, and I want to share with you what they had to say:
“Spaceflight is not just a trip to space. It’s an experience and a journey that starts well before the rocket lights. It changes your perception and your view with respect to life on Earth. I remember as we returned back to Earth, I couldn’t help but wonder who is going to be sitting in this seat after me. I had no idea; it could be anyone. And then it hit me. It could be anyone. And that is incredible and exciting.” – Sirisha Bandla
“The overwhelming amount of beauty that I saw when I looked out of the window at apogee was equaled by the expressions of joy and astonishment that I saw when I looked back inside the cabin. And just when I thought the day couldn’t get any more awesome, I was joined on stage by my wife and two-year daughter, who now says she’s going to be an astronaut too - and I believe her. We have our foot in the door now, and I can't wait for us to push it wide open for so many more people to step through and experience space for themselves. They have something truly special awaiting them.” – Colin Bennett
“One of the things I am most excited about for our Future Astronauts is that as well as going to space, you come back to Earth with a new purpose, and with dear friends who shared in the experience of a lifetime with you. I hear from so many people excited about becoming an astronaut one day. This is especially true of young people. My beautiful grandchildren were very much in my mind as we flew to space – “Papa going to the moon!” they cheered at me. They were the first to greet us when we touched back down to Earth. My message from space was to inspire the next generation of dreamers – and that mission continues today. As the saying goes, if you can see it, you can be it.” – Richard Branson
For the commercial spaceflight industry to be successful, we must create models and practices that are sustainable and accessible – so that every person inspired by our mission can one day realize their own potential. We believe that space belongs to us all. And that starts with advancing diversity and inclusion on the ground – within our workforce, and our broader industry community. The diversity of perspectives and experiences is critical to our future success, and I am committed to creating an inclusive culture to fuel innovation as we pursue our mission to make space accessible to all.
Virgin Galactic is proud to join 24 other space organizations as charter signatories of a first-of-its-kind industry pledge to advance diversity across our collective workforce in the years ahead. The pledge commits all signed companies to regularly report data on diversity, share best practices and work with schools and universities to increase the number of diverse and underrepresented students ready to join the space industry upon graduation. These efforts will help us achieve our stated goal to significantly increases the number of women and employees from underrepresented groups in our collective workforce by 2030.
This pledge is an important first step towards a new era of greater diversity in the space sector.
2022 is going to be an amazing year. More to come!