News & Analysis

If a cat has nine lives, Sir Richard Branson is a cat

Andrew Saks, Friday, 3 September 2021

How many public faux-pas does one person have to make before his reputation is reduced to a smidgen of what can be taken seriously?

Richard Branson, a mainstay of public fame for over four decades, appears to come up smelling of roses every time one of his projects falls to earth.

This time, it has fallen to earth, literally.

Virgin Galactic, the company which Mr Branson established to operate his space missions, is on the receiving end of another government-led ticking off today, resulting in its stock being down 2.95%.

The mere fact that Virgin Galactic is publicly listed is perhaps bizarre in itself. It demonstrates that either the investing public have their sleeves rolled up and loins girded and are ready for some, ahem, intergalactic levels of volatility, or that the endlessly grinning Mr Branson really is that narcissistic that he believes there is a whole world of willing investors who will support his space folly... I mean project.

This time, the sticking point came from the United States official agency which regulates air travel, the Federal Aviation Administration, which has banned the company from making any flights until it finds out why firm's SpaceShip Two veered off course and triggered cockpit warning light during flight that took Mr Branson into space recently.

Supporters have been quick to cry 'conspiracy', holding the opinion that the US government wants to thwart Virgin Galactic's attempts so that its home-grown narcissists Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk can prosper with their own space follies, however that really doesn't hold water because the United States has absolutely nothing to prove against the United Kingdom, as its own astronauts were setting new record journeys into the abyss in the early 1960s, with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin having landed on the moon a bit later in 1969 and actually got out of the space craft and had a stroll around for long enough to ascertain that it is not actually made of cheese.

The British were still ambling around the countryside in their hearing-aid-beige 45 horsepower Austins and Morrises back then, politely tutting and shaking their heads at 'those gung-ho Americans' who were way ahead technologically and societally, and that's before even alluding to absolute hero Yuri Gagarin whose smiling face viewed from within his spacesuit's helmet with the famous Soviet Union's Cyrillic script initials emblazoned is now part of Russian folklore.

The reality is that the US government has no interest in interfering in the puerile antics of these three men, Mssrs Branson, Bezos and Musk, because all of this has been done before, sixty years ago at government level, and is not interesting to any official, other than for aviation safety reasons - for example if an accident injures members of the public.

Other than that, it's three 'look at me look at me' fame seekers blasting off to space on shareholder money and burning fossil fuels, all the while lecturing us members of the public on what terrible people we are for 'killing the planet'.

As one member of the public commented this morning "I consider real space to start at orbit. These are just toys. Alan Shepard went higher on his first flight 60 years ago. This is just a high-altitude airplane which can achieve same effect. Temporary weightlessness. And yes I know what the scientific definition is."

You can't fool Joe Public.

Share article