Yesterday Richard Branson was etched in stratospheric history so to speak as the first billionaire to head to the edge of space. Photo: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor/Files
Yesterday Richard Branson was etched in stratospheric history so to speak as the first billionaire to head to the edge of space. Photo: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor/Files

Branson: ultimate risk-taker, innovator boldly goes to final frontier

By Time of article published Jul 12, 2021

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By Kizito Okechukwu

WHETHER it’s finding or losing my virginity, doing it the Virgin way, or screwing it up and doing it all over again, any of these books by Richard Branson holds a proud place on my bookshelf and I constantly devour any content he shares.

Yesterday he was etched in stratospheric history so to speak as the first billionaire to head to the edge of space.

Going back in time, my first encounter with one of the Branson brands was 16 years ago on Virgin Airlines, which was also my first time boarding a plane.

I’m fortunate to say I have also met him personally. On November 10, 2017 – a date etched firmly in my mind – he visited us at 22 on Sloane. I was star struck. He seemed larger than life and his instantly recognisable blond hair, goatee and soft British accent confirmed I had really met my idol.

Over coffee we chatted about our journey to launch the 22 on Sloane start-up campus and he quizzed us on our strategic goals, also poking holes in them where necessary.

His combination of savvy street smarts and sharp business acumen left me gobsmacked. Yet his encouraging guidance made us believe we could achieve success and sustain this initiative.

Fast forward to yesterday. The ultimate risk taker and innovator blasted off and any Nasa rocket scientist worth his or her salt will tell you going to space even with pre-trials and tests remains a big risk.

Branson has been working on his project for almost two decades after founding Virgin Galactic in 2004 with SpaceshipOne rocketing into the heavens. Then with the right tech and team he developed SpaceShipTwo, which can carry two pilots and up to six paying customers on a high-speed joy ride.

For the tech-inclined geeks out there, CNN reports that SpaceShipTwo takes off from an airplane runway attached beneath the wing of a massive, custom-designed quad-jet double-fuselage mothership known as WhiteKnightTwo. Once the mothership reaches about 40 000 feet, the rocket-powered plane is dropped from in-between WhiteKnightTwo’s twin fuselages and fires up its engine to swoop directly upward, accelerating up to more than three times the speed of sound, or 3 700km/h.

The big money space race is officially on and excitingly so.

Jeff Bezos is next up in two weeks’ time, with Tesla tycoon Elon Musk launching in 2022/2023.

As I give kudos to all the entrepreneurs, innovators and daredevils out there who dare to dream, break boundaries and make the unknown known, I cannot ignore the sounds of Starman and Major Tom by David Bowie and of course, Rocketman by Elton John softly filling my head … Safe travels sir!

Kizito Okechukwu is the executive head of 22 on Sloane, Africa’s largest startup campus

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.

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