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Yet Virgin Galactic Go ahead. It plans to resume its rocket-powered flight test program in May, and its new chief executive, Michael Colglazier, former head of Disney’s international theme parks division, appears determined to face the challenges of the past. It recently unveiled a spacecraft that includes metal fasteners that help prevent peeling and a stability increase system that automates one aspect of flight and allows for a smoother ride.

While these changes may solve some of Virgin Galactic’s problems, its DNA as a rocket company remains the same – DNA that could present its biggest challenge, according to Luke Colby, a propulsion engineer who worked on Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft program for nearly a decade. and also consulted for SpaceX and Blue Origin. “If you want a spacecraft to be fully reusable for air-type traffic, it is not necessary see like an airplane, ”Colby said. “It just has to function as such. And physics is really pushing you towards a two-stage, vertical take-off and vertical landing rocket. “

He admitted that Virgin Galactic will likely be remembered as one of the first “but not necessarily the most successful” of the first “new” space ventures – a sobering admission. His problem, he said, was that the company was driven by nostalgia for aeronautical flight. Blue Origin and SpaceX, on the other hand? They “were motivated by the physics of spaceflight,” he said.

Physics presented a challenge; human nature has posed another. Simply put, Virgin Galactic has set a standard for perfection that is noble but naïve. As one test pilot put it, “Ninety-nine percent is not good enough.” An accident rate of less than 1% on an experimental rocket? Almost impossible. These are the harsh realities of romance.

Maybe that’s what made this company so fascinating to watch: its hope, despite the odds. I wanted to see him succeed not because I cared about who won the private space race, but because I admired the passion and optimism shared by the technicians, engineers and test pilots on the project. We can only hope when we fear failure, and that was one thing algorithms couldn’t do yet: hope. The human factor had worked its magic on me.

My children felt it too. They are still talking about watching this ship take off, then standing at the foot of the stage later as Beth Moses, delighted with what she had just seen, struggles to find the words to articulate her experience, while her husband and his own children were watching her. towards her with admiration.

This, she said, “is an indescribable race.”

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