|Brian Binnie piloted SpaceShipOne into suborbital space and helped earn Scaled Composites the Ansari X Prize in 2004. He now spends about about 85 percent of his time on the SpaceShipTwo project. He is also part of the Ball Explorers Club and can be found in their booth, No. 3121A, in Hangar C. (photo by Phil Weston)
By Barbara A. Schmitz
August 3, 2013 - Having been to suborbital space as a test pilot for SpaceShipOne, Brian Binnie says Virgin Galactic doesn't need a marketing department to sell its flights to space.
The exciting ride sells itself.
"You get to ride a rocket, experience the uplifting freedom of weightlessness, and see this magnificent view - the black void of space and the electric blue ribbon of light that is the atmosphere.
"Re-entry is another special sequence of events that happens right on the heels of everything else," he says. "Just when you think you're getting used to one aspect of flight, it changes dramatically. It keeps you off-balance the whole way and when you settle back down to the runway after an hour and an half, you are a changed person."
Binnie isn't just a test pilot. He has bragging rights to being the nation's 435th astronaut, taking his flight to suborbital space on SpaceShipOne in 2004 and winning Scaled Composites the $10 million Ansari X Prize.
But he spends his time these days on the re-engineered SpaceShipTwo, which will carry six passengers and allow them to experience an out-of-the-seat, zero-gravity experience with views of the planet from the black sky of space.
"SpaceShipTwo is going through its powered test flight trials, and hopefully, by the end of the year, we will have worked through those flights," Binnie said.
The spaceship has flown 26 times as a glider, Binnie said, and it reached Mach 1.2 in April during its first rocket-powered flight.
"It's taken longer than we advertised to get to this point, but we're not about to sprint to the end line and do something silly," he said. "We want people to come to Virgin's headquarters in New Mexico with confidence and a sense of adventure."
Binnie said they tried to take everything that was good about SpaceShipOne and carry it forward, while at the same time taking out the things that were odd. "We think we have a vehicle that is really suitable, reliable, and maintainable for the commercial flight environment, for those who are not engineers or test pilots and who just want to see the world from that perspective."
Giving people a new perspective
Binnie says a flight to space changes you.
"If you have religious orientations, it reinforces that. If you are more holistic and view the world as a delicate entity that needs to be carefully looked it, it reinforces that. It gives you an appreciation of what a small team can do with relatively little amount of money.
"But it is exciting in that it opens up opportunities for younger kids and shows them that aerospace is still alive and well and that it can offer challenges and career paths that can be rewarding," Binnie says.
Binnie stressed that this entire project has been a team effort. "A lot of people put a lot of effort and brain power into this," he said.
According to the Virgin Galactic website, the company has accepted more than $70 million in deposits from nearly 600 people, which is approximately 10 percent more than the total number of people who have ever gone to space. The cost for a ride to suborbital space is $250,000.