NASA, Virgin Galactic to Share Space Travel Plans

NASA and Virgin Galactic have penned a memorandum that will allow both organizations to collaborate on an array of space projects.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Virgin Galactic announced Feb. 21 that the two organizations have signed a memorandum that seeks to enable both organizations to work together on various space ventures in the future.

Under the agreement, the two organizations will discuss potential areas of collaboration such as development of space suits, heat shields for spaceships, hybrid rocket motors and hypersonic vehicles.

Both organizations will also explore other projects in various technical areas using the facilities of NASAs Ames Research Center.

S. Pete Warden, director of the NASA Ames Research Center, believes that this agreement could be mutually beneficial to both NASA and Virgin Galactic.

"Virgin Galactic is developing space ships, and we are developing space ships, and the more we find out what Virgin is working on and doing, the more possibilities there will be for NASA to learn from Virgin Galactic," Worden told eWEEK.

Virgin Galactic is a company owned by Richard Bransons Virgin Group and seeks to create a commercial spaceline, SpaceShipOne, which will allow sub-orbital space travel.

Richard Branson founded Virgin in 1970 as a mail order record retailer and has since than expanded it into international music Megastores, air travel, mobile communications, financial and Internet, with close to 200 companies in over 30 countries.

Branson has also been involved with an array of adventurous stunts, such as using his "Virgin Atlantic Challenger II" boat in 1986 to cross the Atlantic Ocean in the fastest recorded time, and a year later he crossed the same ocean in his hot air balloon, "Virgin Atlantic Flyer."

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In 1991, Branson crossed the Pacific Ocean from Japan to Arctic Canada, breaking existing records with speeds up to 245 mph in a balloon of 2.6 million cubic feet, and between 1995 and 1998, along with Per Lindstrand and Steve Fossett, he tried to circumnavigate the globe by balloon; they were deterred due to bad weather.

For NASA, Virgin Galactic represented a way to expand their space exploration methods.

"We are constantly seeking out collaborative endeavors with entrepreneurial space firms, and we believe that Virgin Galactic brings great energy and innovation to go along with our experience and technology," said Shana Dole, NASAs deputy administrator.

The agreement between NASA and Virgin Galactic also specifies that neither organization will pay fees or provide funds to support the areas of possible consideration because the agreement is only a framework that outlines potential collaborations.

"This will take months to figure out, but we feel that there could be a lot of mutual benefits as it affords NASA an opportunity to work with an emerging company in the commercial human space transportation industry to support the agencys exploration, science and aeronautics mission goals," Worden said.

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