Mojave Returns to Normal as Virgin Galactic Gets Back “On Track”

Credit: Virgin Galactic
Credit: Virgin Galactic

Following the loss of SpaceShipTwo on Halloween, Richard Branson promised Virgin Galactic would redouble its efforts to have the second SpaceShipTwo completed and start testing by April.

Now that April has arrived, NBC News’ Alan Boyle — whose parent company has a multi-platform promotional deal with Virgin — has checked in to see how things are progressing. Apparently, not very rapidly.

SpaceShipTwo No. 2 is now “on track” to begin ground testing before the end of the year. If the past is any guide, in six months that milestone will have slipped into 2016.

As for all those earlier predictions about commercial flights in 2007, 2008, Christmas Day 2013, etc. Apparently, they were all just a big misunderstanding.

“Sometimes people misinterpreted those as firm dates or promises,” said Will Pomerantz, Virgin Galactic’s vice president for projects, “so we don’t want to repeat that mistake.”

Well, OK. It was other peoples’ fault for taking what Virgin Galactic said seriously. That’s duly noted for future reference. Now, what were you saying about SpaceShipTwo’s test schedule again?

Actually, emphasizing that schedules are fluid is actually a good thing. It beats Branson’s ‘I’m dressing up as Santa and flying on Christmas Day even though there’s no chance in Hell of that actually happening’ claims. However, holding others to account for putting faith in your words is not cool.

Boyle uncovers a few other bits of news. Pomerantz says the net effect of people canceling their tickets after the rash and new signups “has evened itself out” with 700 ticket holders.  That’s odd because before the accident, Branson was claiming ticket sales had reached 800. Unless that claim was somehow also misinterpreted.

This whole thing also raises another question: Who sees a crash like this and decides, I gotta get me a ticket on this thing? That billionaire guy needs my money and support. Who are these people? Has Boyle talked to any of them? What exactly are they thinking? That would be an interesting story.

Pomerantz also says that most of customers who asked for refunds were not really afraid of dying after seeing SpaceShipTwo get strewn over 35 miles of desert.

“The overwhelming majority of that group said, ‘I believe you will fly, and I believe it’s safe to fly, but I just don’t know when and I want to do something else with that money,” Pomerantz said.

Is this really true? Were the customers being serious? Or just polite? It would have been difficult to tell grieving Virgin Galactic staffer that not only was the schedule totally uncertain, but you had lost faith in their repeated assurances about safety.  Or for Virgin to admit it if customers had actually told them that.

Well, whatever the case, the one thing we can say for sure five months after the accident is things seem to have returned to normal here in Mojave. Let’s see how long that state of affairs continues.