The New Pioneers: Virgin Galactic
Wednesday, 7.30pm, National Geographic Richard Branson and his team may be further along than we think in the race to get commercial space travel off the ground. They are already looking beyond short hops to space holidays in orbiting resorts. The journey hasn’t been easy, and this gripping documentary, which moves with the pace of a thriller, outlines events so far, including a rocket test on the ground that killed three workers in July 2007. The team has been working on the principle that far less power is needed to launch a spaceship from the edge of the atmosphere than from the ground, and the first stage was to design and test the single-wing mothership that would hold the five-seater spacecraft. You get a front-row seat as what looks like two planes stuck together has its maiden flight and landing. Trust me, it’s tense. Then there’s the test flight with the space vehicle. Great landing, but no space flight yet.