2018 in review: Richard Branson’s year of spaceflight, submarines and social justice

While a report from the Reputation Institute into the most reputable CEOs predicted that the era of superstar CEOs may be coming to an end, nobody told Richard Branson, who continued to make headlines and add to his incredible array of business and social enterprises.

Branson’s spaceflight Virgin Galactic completed a successful rocket-powered supersonic flight in April this year. Just a month later, its winged space place, Unity, had a successful test run in California, achieving supersonic flight over the Mojave Desert. the plane was recorded at speeds of Mach 2, or twice the speed of sound.

“Seeing Unity soar upwards at supersonic speeds is inspiring and absolutely breathtaking,” Branson said after the vehicle landed. “We are getting ever closer to realising our goals.”

Branson continued to be an active blogger and as the FIFA World Cup prepared to kick off in June, he wrote that he hoped it could be a ‘World Cup for peace’, specifically calling for a temporary ceasefire to hostilities in Syria.

He also used his blog to denounce the rise of populism and nationalism around the world and to reflect on the changing nature of work. In a widely shared post, he opined that the end of the nine-to-five workday was in sight. “New innovations will drive industries forward, but they will also reduce our reliance on people power,” Branson wrote.

“Ideas such as driverless cars and more advanced drones are becoming a reality, and machines will be used for more and more jobs in the future. Even pilot-less planes will become the reality in the not too distant future.” In this context, he said job-sharing, shorter working weeks and greater workplace flexibility would become commonplace.

In other posts, he advocated for more awareness of mental health issues, urged governments to take action on climate change, voiced his opposition to the death penalty and even provided updates on his puppy, Tofu.

In November, he launched a new prize to incentivise the production of greener air-conditioning systems. The award will provide 10 companies in India with funding of US$200,000 to develop clean air-conditioning prototypes and one winner will receive at least US$1 million.

He also turned his attention to trachoma, a bacterial infection of the eyes, announcing a US$105 million joint fund to help combat the infection, which is endemic across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Never one to clock off early for the year, Branson was part of the first ever submersible dive to the bottom of the Blue Hole in Belize in December. The dive was part of work to support Ocean Unite raise awareness of ocean protection issues. The mission to the bottom of the world’s largest sinkhole also aimed to map its exact features. Branson worked with a team of scientists, filmmakers and the grandson of legendary ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Virgin Galactic continued to progress towards its lofty goals and in early December its rocket plane breached the Earth’s atmosphere before successfully returning to California. It was the first US commercial flight to travel into space since the US shut down its shuttle program in 2011.

By the end of the year, Branson was predicting that Virgin Galactic was only six months away from its first recreational space flight and that he would be among the first passengers.

Header image credit: Steve Jurvetson

Related posts