Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, today took the wraps off a partnership with Under Armour to create the spacesuit and the footwear that he could well be wearing on a SpaceShipTwo suborbital space trip within a few months.
Under Armour will also create a performance training program for Virgin Galactic’s hundreds of customers — including the opportunity to train at Under Armour’s lab in Portland, Ore.
The actual apparel design and other details will have to wait for a future reveal. But Branson, ever the optimist, suggested that the kickoff for Virgin Galactic’s commercial space operation at Spaceport America in New Mexico is coming soon.
Branson gave his latest outlook today on “CBS This Morning” during a joint appearance with Kevin Plank, founder and CEO of Under Armour. The publicity push came six weeks after a SpaceShipTwo test flight took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in California and sent a pair of pilots above Virgin Galactic’s 50-mile space milestone.
The British-born billionaire said he expected such flights to become routine this year.
“I will hope to go up in the middle of this year myself,” he said. “We’ve got another test flight in a handful of weeks, taking place in Mojave. Then we’ll have another one a few weeks later, then another one. And then we move everything to New Mexico, where we’ve got a beautiful spaceport.”
Over the past decade, New Mexico has invested more than $220 million to get Spaceport America ready for Virgin Galactic, and Virgin Galactic has spent millions of dollars in New Mexico on lease payments, fees and preparations for space tourism operations.
Financial terms of the partnership with Under Armour have not been disclosed, but Under Armour has agreed to provide custom spacesuits and footwear for Virgin Galactic passengers and pilots, plus uniforms for the Virgin Galactic team at Spaceport America.
Although the apparel designs haven’t yet been unveiled, they’re certain to look more stylish than the bulky spacesuits and boots that have long been associated with NASA spacewalks. The SpaceShipTwo cabin is pressurized, and the stratospheric phase of the flight lasts just a few minutes. That scenario is likely to call for safety procedures that have more in common with commercial airline flights than with shuttle-style space journeys.
In addition to designing Virgin Galactic’s space garb, Under Armour says it will design customized programs for astronaut physical preparation and recovery, with a focus on enhancing mobility, strength, fitness, nutrition and sleep.
“With the astronauts, we’re putting together a training program for them, offering them to go to our own performance center in Portland, Oregon, to go spend and prep, getting ready to go into space,” Under Armour’s Plank said. “And when they do, they can go up and they can feel better.”
Plank said it was “not out of the question” that he’d take a ride on SpaceShipTwo himself, although he noted that there are more than 600 customers ahead of him in line. Those would-be spacefliers have paid as much as $250,000 for a reservation.
At that price, the spacesuit should be included for free. In any case, Branson said looking good will be part of the package.
“If you’re going to space, it’s going to be … you’ve got married, you’ve had your children, and the other thing you’re going to remember is that day you go to space,” Branson said. “And it’s very important, therefore, that when you look in the mirror before you go to space, you feel the part.”