Virgin Galactic CEO Defends Space Tourism In the Aftermath of Titan Disaster

Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said commercial spaceflight is tightly regulated, unlike submarine expeditions like the Titan.

Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic
Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic. Jeff Gritchen/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images

On June 29, Virgin Galactic (SPCE) successfully flew paying customers to the edge of space, marking a major milestone for the space tourism company founded by Richard Branson. But the spaceflight’s poor timing—less than a week after the Titan submersible disaster—also made it a target of internet trolling in the days leading up to the event. Michael Colglazier, Virgin Galactic’s CEO, said comparisons of his company with OceanGate Expeditions, the operator of Titan, are extremely unfair.

“Virgin Galactic ships are built, they’re designed, they’re maintained in a way that leverages decades of experience in the aerospace industry,” Colglazier said in an interview with CNBC on June 29 after the company’s successful maiden commercial spaceflight.

The CEO noted space tourism is tightly regulated by the federal government. Virgin Galactic obtained its commercial spaceflight license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) back in 2021, but didn’t rush into flying customers until now as the company navigated supply chain issues, aircraft modifications and additional tests.

“I think most importantly, we’ve been sharing our data with the FAA through this entire company’s history. The FAA sits with us in mission control at every flight,” Colglazier said.

“And while humans going to space with commercial companies is relatively new, the bedrock foundation of safety that this entire company is built around…is going to build this and fly when we’re safe,” he added.

In contrast, OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush, who died alongside four other passengers on the Titan submersible last month, seemed to have a surprisingly lax attitude toward regulation.

“You know, there’s a limit. At some point, safety just is pure waste. I mean, if you just want to be safe, don’t get out of bed,” Rush said in a 2022 podcast with CBS reporter David Pogue.

OceanGate sold submarine expeditions to see the Titanic shipwreck in the northern Atlantic Ocean for $250,000 per person. Virgin Galactic’s suborbital rides have a similar price tag. It started at $250,000 per seat and recently went up to $450,000. Many OceanGate customers are also future passengers of Virgin Galactic. The Branson-owned company has more than 800 customers on the waitlist.

Virgin Galactic CEO Defends Space Tourism In the Aftermath of Titan Disaster