hired former Imagineer Joe Rohde as its "Experience Architect," so the the company has strong connections to the theme park industry. And that makes sense. Because what Branson is trying to do with Virgin Galactic is as much Disney as it is NASA.British billionaire Sir Richard Branson blasted into space this morning in his Virgin Galactic Unity spaceplane. Virgin Galactic is run by former Disneyland President Michael Colglazier and recently
Virgin Galactic will be taking customers in a rocket-propelled spaceplane to an altitude over 50 miles, which NASA and the US military consider the boundary of space. That's still short of the 62-mile Karman line that other international authorities consider the border, but it's high enough to see the sky turn black, the Earth's horizon curve below you and for passengers to experience a few minutes of weightlessness at the peak of their suborbital, parabolic flight.
If Disney once sold A through E ticket rides, a trip on Virgin Galactic is a Z ticket. It's the ultimate thrill ride available to a paying customer. The stats dwarf anything imaginable on a terrestrial theme park attraction: a height of more than 280,000 feet and a top speed of Mach 3.2, or more than 2,400 miles per hour. Beyond the stats, though, it's the credit. Fly on Virgin Galactic, and you gain entry to the exclusive club of human beings who have slipped the bonds of Earth and can say that they have flown to space.
But only for a moment. Yet... what a moment.
Themed entertainment strives to create moments that bring people into another world. Ultimately, that is exactly what Virgin Galactic is selling. It's a moment in space (or, at the edge of it, if you're a Karman hard-liner), that awakens your imagination and passion for space and the opportunities it provides. But to resonate, that moment needs context.
Many of us have been dreaming of space for much of our lives - watching launches, reading books and going to movies depicting adventures in outer space. That lays a foundation that creates a demand for Virgin Galactic's experience. But achieving the dream of flying to space would become a miserable experience if you were just strapped into a seat, blasted off, left nauseous by the free fall at the apogee of a parabolic flight path, had to struggle with other passengers to see anything through a tiny, shared porthole and then were brought back to Earth moments later and sent on your way with nothing to show for your trip but a barf-stained shirt.
Former Amazon CEO's Blue Origin is also preparing to offer commercial space flights in competition with Virgin Galactic. Those will reach the Karman line in a more traditional rocket rather than Virgin Galactic's spaceplane. But business history has shown us that the winner among competing products is not as often the option with superior specs as it is the one with superior storytelling. The commercial spaceflight company that delivers the experience that resonates most with its passengers will be the one that potential clients wish to book.
That is why it is not enough to book rocket scientists to win the space travel race. You'd better have some themed attraction storytellers on your team, as well.
With a Z ticket experience comes a Z ticket price, of course. Virgin Galactic is said to be asking $250,000 for a seat on one of its flights. Bezos auctioned a seat on his upcoming Blue Origin New Shepard flight for $28 million. (And you thought "ride on the first train" coaster auctions could get expensive.) So space flight remains far from a mass market attraction. But going to space now is an attainable attraction for the ultra-wealthy or well-connected who can afford these (forgive me) stratospheric prices.
The space flight attraction industry is now open.
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