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Virgin Galactic test pilots get astronaut wings

Astronaut wings ceremony
Wearing their astronaut wings, SpaceShipTwo test pilots Rick Sturckow and Mark Stucky face the cameras as Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, flashes a thumbs-up sign. (FAA / Virgin Galactic Photo)

Two Virgin Galactic test pilots are now wearing the first commercial astronaut wings to be awarded since SpaceShipOne’s historic spaceflights in 2004.

Last December’s test flight, piloted by Mark “Forger” Stucky and Rick “CJ” Sturckow in the SpaceShipTwo Unity rocket plane, was nearly as historic. It rose to an altitude of 51.4 miles, exceeding the 50-mile benchmark that’s used by the U.S. military and the Federal Aviation Administration for conferring astronaut wings.

Stucky and Sturckow received their wings today during a ceremony at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. Later in the day, the rocket motor that powered the pair past the milestone was officially turned over to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum for exhibit.

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Virgin Galactic makes a deal for spacesuits

Kevin Plank and Richard Branson
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson share a moment with Nick Cienski, Under Armour’s lead spacesuit designer. (Under Armour Photo)

Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, today took the wraps off a partnership with Under Armour to create the spacesuit and the footwear that he could well be wearing on a SpaceShipTwo suborbital space trip within a few months.

Under Armour will also create a performance training program for Virgin Galactic’s hundreds of customers — including the opportunity to train at Under Armour’s lab in Portland, Ore.

The actual apparel design and other details will have to wait for a future reveal. But Branson, ever the optimist, suggested that the kickoff for Virgin Galactic’s commercial space operation at Spaceport America in New Mexico is coming soon.

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Space billionaires take the spotlight

Image: Jeff Bezos and champagne
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and Blue Origin, sprays champagne from a bottle after a successful rocket landing in November 2015. (Credit: Blue Origin via YouTube)

Space is hard: That used to be the excuse for explaining why sending people into space would always be something only governments could do. Now it explains why even billionaires find the feat difficult.

As SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told me back in 2010, even before he was officially recognized as a billionaire, rocket science is “super-frickin’ damn hard.”

To persevere, even billionaires have to have a passion for spaceflight, most likely fostered at an early age, and an iron resolve to weather adversity. That comes through loud and clear in two newly published books, plus a TV documentary that’s premiering tonight.

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SpaceShipTwo aims for space by year’s end

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo
Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity glides over California’s Mojave Desert. (Virgin Galactic Photo)

Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, has been toning down his predictions about the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane’s future trips to space. Until now.

During a trip to Hong Kong to inaugurate a new Virgin Australia route from Melbourne, Branson said the second SpaceShipTwo, known as VSS Unity, “will be back in space by the end of the year.”

“I plan to go to space next year,” he told Australian Business Traveller.

Bloomberg News quoted Branson as saying that rocket-powered tests would be scheduled every three weeks, culminating in test flights to outer-space altitudes by November or December. Commercial passenger operations should start by the end of 2018, after Branson’s inaugural ride, he said in an interview.

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Richard Branson sizes up Seattle’s billionaires

Richard Branson
Richard Branson is a fan of Seattle’s entrepreneurs. (Virgin Atlantic photo)

At the age of 66, Virgin billionaire Richard Branson has seen a lot of entrepreneurs come and go, but he’s also gotten to know some of the enduring titans of the tech industry, such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Seattle’s entrepreneurial spirit is one big reason why Branson scheduled one of his signature “Business Is an Adventure” forums here this week. (Another big reason was the start of Virgin Atlantic’s nonstop air service between London and Seattle.)

During an exclusive interview with GeekWire, Branson gave his unvarnished views on controversial issues ranging from Donald Trump’s presidency to the status of women in the entrepreneurial world. But he also reflected on his relationships with Bezos and Gates.

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Six billion-dollar tips for entrepreneurs

Richard Branson and flight attendants at Sea-Tac
Virgin Atlantic’s founder, Richard Branson, demonstrates that he knows how to make an entrance at Sea-Tac International Airport. (Virgin Atlantic Photo via Twitter)

Hundreds of entrepreneurs and VIPs converged on Seattle’s Pioneer Square today to get advice from one of the world’s flashiest business leaders, Virgin billionaire Richard Branson.

The panel discussion, titled “Business Is an Adventure,” featured local startup masters such as Hointer’s Nadia Shouraboura, CreativeLive’s Chase Jarvis and Jonathan Sposato of Picmonkey (and GeekWire).

But Branson was clearly the star of the show, and based on the Twitter reviews, most of those in attendance felt as if they got what they came for.

Check out Branson’s six tips for entrepreneurs on GeekWire.

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Richard Branson fears Trump will ‘blow it’

Richard Branson
Richard Branson isn’t shy about his political views. (GeekWire Photo / John Cook)

Virgin Atlantic founder Richard Branson is clearly unhappy with President Donald Trump – and he thinks that a different sort of business leader, such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, would have been much better for America.

But the way Branson sees it, even Bloomberg may have a problem now.

“There is a danger that Trump will have blown it for any business person to ever follow into the White House,” Branson told GeekWire today during an exclusive interview in Seattle. “I hope not, because I think there are lots of extraordinarily good entrepreneurial types of business people out there, both male and female, who would make very good presidents.”

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Could laws boost women in business?

Nadia Shouraboura and Richard Branson
Hointer CEO Nadia Shouraboura gets in on the discussion with Virgin founder Richard Branson. (GeekWire Photo / John Cook)

To boost women’s status in business, Virgin billionaire Richard Branson says the United States and other countries should follow Norway’s lead and require corporations to put more women on their boards … or else.

Having 40 percent women representation on corporate boards would be a good target to shoot for, Branson told GeekWire in an exclusive interview today. The British entrepreneur was in Seattle to celebrate the start of Virgin Atlantic’s nonstop air service between Seattle and London – and headline a VIP forum for entrepreneurs at Axis Pioneer Square.

“Not every Virgin company’s got there yet, and we’ve still got work to do,” Branson acknowledged. “But I think if a law could be passed, that would focus the minds of an awful lot of chief executives, who are generally male in companies.”

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Watch Richard Branson’s excellent adventure

Richard Branson shows off the lumberjack look in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Not everyone can get in to the VIP business forum that Virgin Atlantic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, has organized in Seattle today – but anyone can watch what happens.

Branson wants to throw a spotlight on Seattle’s entrepreneurial spirit during the hourlong event at Axis Pioneer Square, starting at 11 a.m. PT. Live video coverage will be provided via Ustream.tv. To watch the stream, go to Virgin Atlantic’s website, or to the airline’s Facebook page.

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Richard Branson gets frosty over Alaska Air

Richard Branson
Richard Branson, pretends he’s an airplane on the runway after the arrival of Virgin Atlantic’s 787-9 Dreamliner jet from London. (Virgin Atlantic Photo)

British billionaire Richard Branson kicked off Virgin Atlantic’s nonstop service from London to Seattle today with a rhetorical kiss for the Emerald City, but also a verbal kick at Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, which is absorbing another one of the airlines he founded.

First, the kiss: Branson took a star turn on the tarmac after Flight 105’s arrival at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, surrounded by flight attendants bearing Union Jack umbrellas. Wearing blue jeans and a hometown Filson lumberjack jacket, he paid tribute to Seattle’s entrepreneurial bent.

“It’s a city after my own heart,” Branson told a crowd of VIPs and journalists assembled in the airport’s arrival hall. “Very entrepreneurial, some of the greatest entrepreneurs in the world live here.”

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