If all goes according to plan, Richard Branson is planning to launch most of his family — his son, Sam, 24; daughter, Holly, 27; and his parents, Eve, 85, and Ted, 91 — into outer space. They’ll be onboard for the maiden voyage of SpaceShip Two which he unveiled yesterday (along with its catamaran-like dual fuselage airplane launch vehicle) in the Mojave Desert. His wife, however, is staying earthbound. We spoke with him.
Your whole family is going up — except your wife?
I know this is not particularly fair on the wives and mothers, but my father is in good shape except for a bad hip, and in space that won’t matter. His attitude is, it’s something to look forward to. My mother has been an adventuress all her life and she will be going strong into her hundreds.
How are you prepping for the voyage?
We will spend three days at a spaceport in New Mexico and experience G forces peaking at 3.5 GZ and 6 GX, which is not enormous. We will swing around at considerable speed, which mirrors what will be experienced on the flight, to check our hearts.
And if anyone freaks?
These people are choosing to go up. If worse comes to worst, we’ll keep them relatively strapped in. Ultimately, they can simply gaze at the earth’s surface, or unstrap and float around in zero gravity.
Can ordinary passengers ride to outer space?
Yes, the fare is $200,000. The ship holds six passengers and two astronauts and will travel 70 miles into space. Four hundred people have already paid in full. We built it with enormous windows and lots of room; it can accommodate tall people, fat people, and midgets. Eventually we will have orbital flights and a hotel in outer space.
But for now I hear you are opening a hotel closer to home.
My partner Bob Wojtowicz found a beautiful estate in New Jersey, and we hired David Rockwell to help transform it. Natirar will be the first Virgin resort in the United States, joining the game reserve in South Africa, the Atlas Mountains retreat, and Necker Island in the Caribbean. This one will have a working farm and gardens, a spa, cooking and wine school, riding; Croquet courts were a must for a British partner, and there will be snooker tables. I’ve spent a lifetime partying, so I expect people will be able to have a good time.
Virgin Atlantic is going strong, but the aviation business in general is a bit of a downer.
Americans are very good at creating great experiences, but hopeless at doing it in the aviation business. The quality of the big American carriers is dreadful. As long as governments don’t continue to prop them up and let them go bust like old trees at the end of their lives, airlines like JetBlue and Virgin America will survive and we can have a flourishing industry.
And the music business?
It will never be the same again, but music will continue to make money through merchandise and live concerts, and something else will come along. Every new music generation will have its culture. One of the lucky things about having lived through the sixties and seventies is that we had a pretty good one.