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Still dreaming of the stars
Like many people, I sometimes think to myself: what if this is all a dream? I feel like one day I might wake up and be 20 years old again, with my whole life ahead of me. That thought doesn’t scare me, though, it excites me. I’d quite like to go back and plot my life all over again, and have even more big dreams.
Dreaming is one of humanity’s greatest gifts. It champions aspiration, spurs innovation, leads to change and propels us forward. In a world without dreams, there would be no adventure, no moon landing, no female CEOs, no civil rights. What a half-lived and tragic existence we would have.
We should all dream big, and encourage others to do so, too.
Throughout my life, space has always held a special place in my dreams. After witnessing humans land on the moon, my generation thought that we would all be making routine trips there and exploring it together. But as the years passed, we learned that government officials were not in the business of taking you and me to space; they had other priorities.
Eventually, when it came to space exploration, it became obvious that private enterprise would have to take what the government started and pave the way for other discoveries. This is essentially the reason our team started our commercial space line, Virgin Galactic. We wanted to help ordinary people reach the stars by doing what we do best: innovating.
When Virgin Galactic was merely a name and a vision backed by a small founding team,
I didn’t know where this journey would take us nor how long it would take for us to get somewhere.
I didn’t know that in 2004 I would be crying tears of joy with aerospace engineer Burt Rutan and Paul Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder, as SpaceShipOne won the Ansari XPRIZE after completing three flights in two weeks. It was the first privately developed and manned spaceship to reach space.
I also didn’t know that Virgin would eventually be able to start three companies that are all contributing to our common dream: establishing open access to space that can change the world for good.
Virgin Galactic is the name of the company that will eventually send humans (including yours truly) to space aboard SpaceShipTwo (or VSS Unity). This ship was built by The Spaceship Company, our Mohave, California-based facility that manufactures vehicles for the future. Virgin Galactic will be headquartered in Spaceport America in New Mexico, from where SpaceShipTwo’s flights will eventually take off.
Our newest company, Virgin Orbit, encompasses LauncherOne, our small-satellite launcher. LauncherOne was created with the same philosophy as SpaceShipTwo: opening space to many more missions by dramatically decreasing the price of each flight. We’re doing exactly that with LauncherOne (but with satellites instead of people).
During recent visits to Virgin Orbit’s design and manufacturing facility in Long Beach, California, the superstar team of women and men there showed me the fantastic hardware they’ve built, tested and improved upon. By offering lower costs and frequent service to space, the team is revolutionising the small-satellite market in the promising space economy.
Besides each company’s technical strengths and incredible teams, what excites me most is that Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit are each equally committed to opening access to space as a way to learn more and improve life here on Earth which, after all, is my favourite planet. We have a way to go with each programme, but I’m thrilled that we have so many great people who are committed to innovation and exploration. And I’m happy that they are pursuing their dreams.
Decades ago, after we watched the moon landing, the idea of space exploration was new and promising.
Later, the obstacles made even considering it seem out of reach. But, as our experience with Virgin Galactic demonstrates, taking dreams seriously—even the ones that seem wildly out of reach—is essential.
When you have an idea and you’re thinking of starting a business (whether it’s in space exploration or not) remember not to be self-conscious about having high expectations. Don’t judge yourself too harshly, and don’t let the naysayers convince you that your idea is way too optimistic, or that you’re being too idealistic or not serious enough.
Look at the world with wide-eyed enthusiasm, and believe that you are more powerful than the problems that confront you. We are only limited by our imagination.
Also remember that the benefits of having big dreams far outweigh the perceived risks, because their value isn’t just measured by the outcome, but by the inspiration that comes from the journey of achieving them.
Dream big, and you could be presented with the opportunity to lead the world on an incredible adventure — even one to other worlds.
(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active. He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.) (Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to Richard.Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your name, country, e-mail address and the name of the website or publication where you read the column.)
• Don’t shy away from having high expectations for yourself and your business.
• Don’t let the naysayers convince you that your goals are too idealistic.
• Remember that the value of chasing your dreams is measured not just by your accomplishments, but also by the inspiration that comes from your journey toward accomplishing those goals.
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