Aussie astronaut critical of space tourism

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Sir Richard Branson has come under sharp criticism from a seasoned astronaut because of his ‘dead-end technology’ and ‘dangerous’ flights to space.

Australian astronaut Dr Andy Thomas said that he felt uncomfortable with how Branson marketed his £200,000-a-ticket trips as venturing to the ‘edge of space’.

Sir Richard’s Virgin Galactic team celebrated last week after successfully launching a rocket plane into space for the first time. 

The craft soared 50 miles above Earth as part of Virgin Galactic’s first successful test flight to space above California’s Mojave Desert.

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Australian astronaut Dr Andy Thomas, pictured, said that he wasn't comfortable with Sir Richard Branson's marketing  for-the-public, £200,000-a-ticket to take passengers into orbit is 'edge of space'

Sir Richard's Virgin Galactic team celebrated last week after successfully launching a rocket plane into space for the first time. Here, being honoured in Hollywood in October

Australian astronaut Dr Andy Thomas, left, said that he wasn’t comfortable with Sir Richard Branson’s marketing  for-the-public, £200,000-a-ticket to take passengers into orbit is ‘edge of space’

Dr Thomas, who is hailed as Australia’s most prominent astronaut, spoke about how he was not comfortable with how Branson’s technology was being marketed.

‘The thing I’ve got to say about Richard Branson is he could sell refrigerators to Eskimos,’ Dr Thomas told ABC news.

‘He’s a businessman and he’s portraying that flight experience in a way that I would not be comfortable saying.’

‘It’s true that he will fly to the edge of space, but he can’t stay there. He falls right back down.

It was the first time Sir Branson’s space flight company reached what they consider as the boundary of space. 

The SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, reached an altitude of 271,266 feet (82,682 metres) after being released by its carrier plane at 43,000 feet (13,106 metres) reaching top speeds of 2.9 times the speed of sound.

Sir Richard Branson came under sharp criticism by a seasoned astronaut because 'dead-end technology' and 'dangerous' trips to the flights to space. Pictured here, after watching his craft reach the 'edge of space' last week for the first time ever, above California's Mojave Desert

Sir Richard Branson came under sharp criticism by a seasoned astronaut because ‘dead-end technology’ and ‘dangerous’ trips to the flights to space. Pictured here, after watching his craft reach the ‘edge of space’ last week for the first time ever, above California’s Mojave Desert

SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, reached an altitude of 82,682 metres after being released by its carrier plane at 13,106m. It reached a top speed of 2.9 times the speed of sound. It was the first time Sir Branson's space flight company reached what they consider as the boundary of space

SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, reached an altitude of 82,682 metres after being released by its carrier plane at 13,106m. It reached a top speed of 2.9 times the speed of sound. It was the first time Sir Branson’s space flight company reached what they consider as the boundary of space

Virgin Galactic's spaceship did not launch on a rocket but took off attached to an airplane from Mojave, California.  Dr Thomas downplayed the success of the mission saying it's 'really just a high altitude aeroplane flight and a dangerous one at that'

Virgin Galactic’s spaceship did not launch on a rocket but took off attached to an airplane from Mojave, California.  Dr Thomas downplayed the success of the mission saying it’s ‘really just a high altitude aeroplane flight and a dangerous one at that’

Although Dr Thomas downplayed the success of the mission saying it’s ‘really just a high altitude aeroplane flight and a dangerous one at that’.

He added: ‘As a technology to get humans out into space it’s a go nowhere, dead-end technology.’ 

‘You can’t grow it, you can’t make it big enough.’ 

Sir Branson, who’s worth around £4 billion, has said that he would love to establish a third spaceport in Australia, and his team plans to talk to the newly-formed Australian Space Agency about the possibility. 

Branson says the achievement marks the first time a crewed craft designed to carry private passengers has made it to space. The company's definition of the edge of space, however, sits lower than the widely accepted space boundary said to be at 62 miles high

Branson says the achievement marks the first time a crewed craft designed to carry private passengers has made it to space. The company’s definition of the edge of space, however, sits lower than the widely accepted space boundary said to be at 62 miles high

Dr Thomas, who has taken four flights with NASA, is seen as one of Australia's most prominent astronauts. Dr Thomas spoke to ABC about how he was not comfortable with how Branson's technology was being marketed and his technology was 'dead-end'

Dr Thomas, who has taken four flights with NASA, is seen as one of Australia’s most prominent astronauts. Dr Thomas spoke to ABC about how he was not comfortable with how Branson’s technology was being marketed and his technology was ‘dead-end’

However, Dr Thomas, who made four space flights with NASA, said he was doubtful about the benefit of having Virgin Galactic’s operations based in the state.


‘South Australia would be an ideal place, the Woomera test range would be ideal. It’s good weather, no trees around to crash into when you land.

‘But he would probably ask for huge tax incentives to do that.’

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall has recently welcomed the idea of hosting the Virgin Galactic project saying ‘he’s very welcome’ in the country.

The British billionaire, who's worth around £4 billion, has said that he would love to establish a third spaceport in Australia, and his team plans to talk to the newly-formed Australian Space Agency about the possibility (file photo)

The British billionaire, who’s worth around £4 billion, has said that he would love to establish a third spaceport in Australia, and his team plans to talk to the newly-formed Australian Space Agency about the possibility (file photo)

Despite his pointed assessment on the project, Dr Thomas said he supported what Sir Branson was doing, because of the spin-off technology that was being created. 

What he is spinning off is the capability to launch satellites, small satellites from under the wing of an aircraft on a small booster,’ he said.

‘That’s why, despite my criticisms of what he’s trying to do in human space flight, I think in terms of the satellite technology and the capabilities of launching vehicles, it’s something we should support.’

Sir Richard's Virgin Galactic team celebrated last week after successfully launching a rocket plane into space for the first time. Afterwards a tearful Branson said that his team saw the 'biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled'

Sir Richard’s Virgin Galactic team celebrated last week after successfully launching a rocket plane into space for the first time. Afterwards a tearful Branson said that his team saw the ‘biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled’

Virgin Galactic's SpaceshipTwo launches for a suborbital test flight on last week reaching peak height of 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers), after taking off attached to an airplane from Mojave, California, then firing its rocket motors to reach new heights

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceshipTwo launches for a suborbital test flight on last week reaching peak height of 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers), after taking off attached to an airplane from Mojave, California, then firing its rocket motors to reach new heights

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity comes in for a landing after its suborbital test flight on December 13, 2018, in Mojave, California. Sir Branson, who's worth around £4 billion, has said that he would love to establish a third spaceport in Australia

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity comes in for a landing after its suborbital test flight on December 13, 2018, in Mojave, California. Sir Branson, who’s worth around £4 billion, has said that he would love to establish a third spaceport in Australia

Dr Thomas says the newly formed Australian space agency should spend its first five to 10 years helping develop businesses in the space industry and grow employment across the sector. 

But Dr Thomas doesn’t want the local space agency to become a large bureaucratic organisation like NASA, preferring it remain ‘lean and functional’. 

However, he did not rule out the agency eventually launching its own space flights.   

Speaking after the flight, Mr Branson said it shows how ‘myself and thousands of other people like me’ could make it to space.

Branson has previously admitted he hopes that he'll be joined by family members on his first flight, including his 94-year-old mother Eve Branson. 

Branson has previously admitted he hopes that he’ll be joined by family members on his first flight, including his 94-year-old mother Eve Branson. 

‘We saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled. How on Earth do I describe the feeling?

‘Today for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship built to carry private passengers reached space.’ 

‘I’ve personally invested about a billion dollars in this project, so having our first money coming back is a good feeling.

‘We’ve got to make this a profitable venture, and I think we can make it a profitable venture.’

He also said he himself hoped ‘to go up in maybe five, six months time’.

WHAT ARE THE TOP ALTITUDES REACHED BY VIRGIN GALACTIC, BLUE HORIZONS AND SPACEX?

Three companies are leading the charge in commercial space travel as they race to get tourists beyond orbit.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s firm SpaceX, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are all vying to be the first companies to send up the first commercial space flight.

But while Sir Richard believes Musk is ‘doing fantastically well’ in getting cargo into space – including his own car – the real tussle is between the Virgin boss and Bezos.

Musk has reached dizzying heights with his numerous private space deliveries to the International Space Station at an altitude of around 1.4 million feet (408,000 metres), but is yet to fly any of his planned passenger-carrying craft.

The New Shepard Rocket launching on its eighth overall test flight near Van Horn, Texas

Blue Origin flew its New Shepherd spacepod, which launches aboard a traditional rocket capsule, to an altitude of 351,000 feet (107,000 metres) during a test flight near Van Horn, Texas, on April 29 (pictured)

Virgin Galactic reached a top altitude of 170,800 feet (52,000 metres) during a test of its VSS Unity spacecraft, which has room for six passenger and is lifted toward space on a huge carrier aricraft, on May 29.

Eventually, the company wants to fly space tourists to an altitude of 360,890 feet (110,000 metres) going beyond the 328,000 feet (100,000 metres) defined boundary of space. 

Blue Origin flew its New Shepherd spacepod, which launches aboard a traditional rocket capsule, to an altitude of 351,000 feet (107,000 metres) during a test flight near Van Horn, Texas, on April 29.

The reusable New Shepard rocket and spacecraft is intended to carry up to six space tourists, researchers and/or experiments on brief suborbital flights, the company has said. 


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