Finding My Virginity: The New Autobiography Richard Branson Portfolio Oct. 10, 2017 482 pages
In his new book, Richard Branson recounts that on the morning of Oct. 31, 2014, he was on his private Caribbean island in a state of “schoolboy excitement.” The reason? Three time zones away in California’s Mojave Desert, Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites were conducting the longest and most ambitious flight test of the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle.
That process involves three steps: Scaled Composites completing a series of flight tests to meet contractual milestones; Virgin Galactic completing several flight tests of its own once it takes possession of SpaceShipTwo; and the FAA granting Virgin Galactic a launch license.
The official transfer of the SS2 from Scaled to Virgin will take place upon completion of key contractual milestones, Whitesides says. Although the main intention remains to demonstrate a fully powered suborbital flight with an apogee beyond the 100-km (62-mi.) “Von Karman” altitude limit that defines the boundary between the atmosphere and space, Virgin will be satisfied with two main criteria: “We’d like at a minimum for [Sealed] to demonstrate supersonic reentry and peak heating, if we can,” Whitesides says.
California’s Antelope Valley is probably the home of more aviation and space firsts than any place else in the world. Within this massive stretch of desert, the sound barrier was broken, space shuttles were built and tested, Voyager took off and landed for its solo around the world trip, and the first privately-funded manned space vehicle soared above the Karman line.
Monuments and tributes to this glorious past and high-tech present can be found scattered all over the valley from suburban Palmdale in the south to the dusty desert outside Randsburg up north. The Antelope Valley’s blue skies are filled with advanced supersonic jets that boom and zoom across the horizon just like Chuck Yeager first did nearly 70 years ago.
I found a very cool place in Lancaster the other day that encompasses the Antelope Valley’s past and present. American Data Plates, which makes products for aircraft and space vehicles, has a gift shop with interesting aviation and space memorabilia and collectibles.