Virgin Galactic Made Pre-emptive Strike Against London Sunday Times Story

Credit: Ken Brown
WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo in flight. (Credit: Ken Brown)

Parabolic Arc has obtained the following email from Virgin Galactic Commercial Director Stephen Attenborough to the company’s ticket holders concerning the London Sunday Times story that I co-authored with Jon Ungoed-Thomas about cracks in WhiteKnightTwo’s wings. It’s worth a read.

From: Future Astronauts
Date: May 10, 2014
Subject: Virgin Galactic Update

Dear all,

We wanted to give you a quick heads-up that we believe the UK Sunday Times may run a negative story on Virgin Galactic tomorrow.

We don’t know all the angles but from what we can tell, the story appears to be predicated on false or deliberately misleading and exaggerated rumours from “off the record”, nameless contributors. Although that means we cannot be sure of the sources of the mischief, we suspect they are linked in some way to the author Tom Bower, who has made a living by trying to discredit famous personalities, including Richard. The Sunday Times has previous form in knocking Richard and various Virgin companies, including Virgin Galactic and has had a commercial relationship with Bower. So, despite the fact that we have vigorously rebuffed the points, we do expect the story to run and for it to maintain a negative stance.

This is unfortunate because, as you will know from last week’s Future Astronaut Newsletter, things continue to move forward strongly in Mojave thanks to the dedication and skill of our incredible team. Since we sent that communication we have successfully undertaken the first of the qualifying firings of the rocket motor in preparation for the rapid series of powered test flights, and we expect WhiteKnightTwo to emerge from the hanger shortly, following her exhaustive annual inspection, to test the upgraded undercarriage and brakes which have been fitted in preparation for commercial service.

Sorry to have to bother you with this over the weekend but felt it was right on this occasion to pre-warn!

Should there be need for any further clarification once the article is published we will write again, and as always please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Clare and Gemma with any questions.

Thank you for your continued support and enjoy the remainder of the weekend.

Best wishes,

Stephen Attenborough
Commercial Director

Editor’s Note: As you can see, Mr. Attenborough pre-emptively trashed the story prior to publication. He also somehow managed to blame author Tom Bower for the whole thing even though Bower was only quoted in the story and did not do any of the reporting on it.

It’s ironic that Mr. Attenborough makes such misstatements and spreads innuendo while decrying the accuracy and fairness of an article he hasn’t even read yet.

To repeat what I have said previously: We stand by the story. It is accurate. The sources are credible and knowledgeable. They know a helluva lot more about what’s happening with WhiteKnightTwo, SpaceShipTwo and the flight test program than Mr. Attenborough, who is a public relations and marketing guy sitting in London.

In fairness, Mr. Attenborough is neither a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, meaning there are limitations to what he can be told about such matters due to America’s strict ITAR regulations. So, he may not know all the details of all the problems that exist in the program.

One further issue for ticket holders to consider: my reporting on Virgin Galactic’s problems with SpaceShipTwo’s engine and schedule delays have been far more accurate than the assurances coming out of the company over the last few years that all was well and that spaceflights were around the corner.

Update: Over at Gizmodo, Matt Novak has a great summary of Virgin’s public claims and promises about spaceflight, which actually go all the way back to 1999:

15 Years of Virgin Galactic’s Failed Space Age Promises