Huntsville’s role in the future of citizen space travel

Space Shuttle With External Fuel Tank
The Rocket City could get even more aerospace jobs in the near future. Photo by Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

Richard Branson’s historic space flight could be big for Huntsville. Citizen space flights like Branson’s could expand the aerospace industry, which is a big employer in Rocket City. Keep reading for more on Huntsville’s involvement in Branson’s flight and how it could impact North Alabama.

Wait… normal people can go to space now?

Us Space And Rocket Center
Wealthy citizens may have the opportunity to visit space within the year. Photo courtesy of U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Yes, somewhat. On Sunday, July 11th, billionaire and Virgin Galactic CEO Richard Branson made history as the first person to visit space in his own spaceship, beating fellow billionaire and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos by ten days. During the flight, Branson and his crew traveled 53 miles above the New Mexico desert in a reusable winged rocket ship.

Other wealthy people could soon be in space as well. Branson’s Virgin Galactic has 600 flight reservations from future space tourists. Tickets are $250,000 apiece, and they plan to start taking passengers for 15 minute flights next year. 

Space Camp Grads Lead the Way

Graduates of Space Camp are already highly involved in early citizen space travel pursuits. Video courtesy of U.S. Space and Rocket Center

Graduates of Huntsville’s Space Camp are already highly involved in citizen space travel. Beth Moses, a Space Camp graduate and Space Camp Hall of Fame member, went into space with Richard Branson this weekend. As Virgin Galactic’s Chief Astronaut, Moses will train future citizen astronauts before their flights.

“Going to space should not be special. We should have many millions of Space Camp kids who then turn into astronauts, because we will appreciate our Earth that much more.” 

-Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut and Space Camp alumni
Space Camp Students Learn How To Apply Science And Technology In Real-World Scenarios. Photo Courtesy Of Space Camp.
Space Camp students learn how to apply science and technology in real-world scenarios. Photo courtesy of Space Camp

Fellow Space Camp Hall of Famer Wally Funk will go to space on July 20 for Blue Origin’s first flight. She graduated from the Adult Space Academy. At age 82, Funk will be the oldest person ever to go into space.

Blue Origin in Huntsville

Drone Shot Of Rocket
Aerospace is a key source of employment in Huntsville. Photo courtesy of Gerrit Burke @sparrowdronehsv

Blue Origin is Jeff Bezos’ space travel company. The futuristic company is focused on saving the Earth through space travel. More than anything, Blue Origin wants to expand, explore, find new resources, and move industries that stress Earth into space. Bezos plans to ride his Blue Origin rocket into space from Texas on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. After Bezos’ flight, Blue Origin plans to sell trips to space as well.

Blue Origin opened a factory in Huntsville last year, employing over 300 Alabamians to build rocket batteries. The facility produces BE-4 rocket batteries, which use liquid oxygen and natural gas to produce over 55,000 pounds of thrust. This month, Blue Origin announced that they’re hiring 80 new welders and machinists at their Huntsville plant. A company news release stated that they’re looking for employees “who are passionate about the company’s mission to lower the cost of access to space.”

“It’s an exciting time for Blue, our partners and this country – we are on the path to deliver on our promise to end the reliance on Russian made engines – and it’s all happening right here, right now, in the great state of Alabama. We couldn’t be prouder to call this our home for engine production.”

-Bob Smith, CEO of Blue Origin, in a 2020 press release

Citizen space travel could increase demand for reusable rocket engines, prompting the growth of Blue Origin’s Huntsville facility. 

Excitement all around

City Of Huntsville
The Rocket City is growing every day! Photo via the City of Huntsville’s Facebook

This week, U.S. News and World Report ranked Huntsville the 3rd best place to live in America. That’s huge news for the Rocket City. Growing interest in citizen space travel could make Huntsville an even more desirable place to live and work. Michael Ward, the Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs for the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce, thinks other Huntsville companies could soon expand into citizen space travel.

“We’re terrifically interested in maintaining Huntsville’s role as a leading space community. Part of that is nurturing the kind of new relationships that we have with Blue Origin. Existing space companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin will continue to be relevant and important, you know, as we move forward in the space economy. I think that they’re going to be very relevant in all aspects of space, including civil civilian space.”

-Michael Ward, Senior Vice President at Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce

I can’t wait to see how the Rocket City grows with civilian space travel. Without a doubt, Richard Branson’s historic flight is good news for Huntsville and all of Alabama.

What did you think about Richard Branson’s flight? Tag @thebamabuzz and blast off with us!

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Libby Foster
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