Response to Unfounded Criticism of Virgin Galactic

February 1, 2014
Chad Anderson
February 1, 2014
Chad Anderson

Tom Bower has made his living by writing negative books about high-profile personalities. Sued numerous times for libel, his work is highly selective - making outrageous claims using incorrect and out of date evidence. Bower is an author of fiction masquerading as a journalist. While true journalism serves a vital public service by disseminating truthful, accurate, and objective information and analysis, Bower does the opposite by writing biased stories, omitting evidence, and failing to fact-check basic evidence used to make his claims. Spitting in the face of journalistic integrity, he seems to start with a conclusion and then composes the justification.

Tom Bower

Spitting in the face of journalistic integrity, Bower seems to start with a conclusion and then composes the justification.

Bower has decided to come at Branson again, this time with a shock piece in The Sunday Times, designed to drum up interest in his new book. As a proponent of free speech I normally would let this go as an annoying opinion piece, but I just can't do it in this case. Fortunately, as I began writing a response highlighting the gross negligence and inaccuracies of the Times excerpt I came across the following letter to the editor from George Whitesides, Virgin Galactic CEO, in a much more authoritative response to The Sunday Times article:

All systems go for Virgin Galactic lift-off2 Feb 2014

TOM BOWER's claims in extracts from his new book on Richard Branson that Virgin Galactic has "no licence" and "no rocket" to go to space ("Lost in Space" and "The Sun lizard fading into exile", News Review, last week) misrepresent the facts and use old information to create a story. Indeed the recent progress of the Galactic programme, including the latest rocket-powered flight, renders Bower's main claims false. The company's rocket motor has burnt for the full duration and thrust multiple times, and the company released video footage of one such test in December. Bower also fails to note that the team has an experimental permit from the Federal Aviation Administration for the test flight programme phase.

The company applied for a commercial licence in 2013 as planned and to coincide with the latter stages of the test-flight programme. It expects to receive that licence well in advance of commercial service later in 2014.

Most seriously, Bower attempts to cast doubt on Virgin Galactic's absolute commitment to safety, particularly by suggesting that any potential lessons that could have been learnt by the tragic 2007 industrial accident at Scaled Composites were somehow brushed under the carpet. The opposite is true. The company supported the full independent inquiry and accepted all the resulting recommendations in terms of system redesign along with their costs and time implications. The end result is a system that will be significantly safer.

Bower also claims that Richard no longer owns any of the principal Virgin businesses and that the company has ceased to innovate. Among others, Virgin Galactic is majority-owned by Richard and it certainly innovates. Richard's empire has not shrunk, and his work, through his foundation and companies, is creating real impact.

"Branson is one of the few driving true innovation in a world of 140 characters." - George Whitesides, Chief Executive, Virgin Galactic.

We live in a time where there is a real fear that innovation has slowed, if not stopped altogether. Peter Thiel's famous question, "What happened to the future? We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters" is the basis for real intellectual debate. And Jerzy Gangi postulates that there is a systemic failure in the startup ecosystem (the greatest mechanism for innovation and change) in his blog post "Why Silicon Valley Funds Instagrams, Not Hyperloops". In a world where incremental things like animated GIFs and photos that self-destruct after viewing are considered "innovative", I find it extremely refreshing to see companies like Virgin Galactic pushing the boundaries of human possibility and giving us all the opportunity to come along for the ride.

What Virgin Galactic is doing has the potential to fundamentally change the course of human history. The Overview Effect is a real phenomenon experienced by anyone who has traveled to space and gained perspective by looking upon Earth from the outside. I firmly believe that once a critical mass of people gain that perspective, our World will forever change for the better. I applaud Richard Branson and everyone involved with Virgin Galactic for their efforts to do something that has never been done before and to carry on in the face of adversity. Of course something of this magnitude will be difficult, of course there will be delays, and of course there will be risks involved. True innovation is hard. Criticism is easy. When faced with a choice between the two, criticism is the coward's route. Bower's article claims that "any enhancement of Britain's economy and society has been limited", but how will people view themselves, their world, and their relationship with humanity after seeing our beautiful blue planet from space?

There’s never been a better time to get involved in commercial space. If you’re ready to start investing in private space companies, we invite you to apply for membership to Space Angels.

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