Delivering the dream of space travel has always been the exclusive province of government agencies, and over the past 46 years these agencies have sent only 467 people — most of whom were professional astronauts — into the final frontier.
With Virgin Galactic (VG), Richard Branson is trying to change that. Last Wednesday at the American Museum of Natural History, throngs of reporters were on hand to capture the unveiling of his prototype spacecrafts, which are being built to send everyday people — 100 of them by 2009 — into space.
Also in attendance at the event were 28 students from Professor Ketty Maisonrouge’s luxury markets class. They had special permission to be there for a different reason — to do marketing research on VG and the space-travel industry. The students met privately with Branson and Brian Binnie, who piloted SpaceShipOne’s second Ansari X Prize flight.
And the following evening on campus, a group of future VG “astronauts,” along with VG president Will Whitehorn and other senior VG executives, met and talked with the students for five hours.
“This was really one of these rare moments in life when you feel that you are somehow a small part of a historic event,” said Maisonrouge.
This is the first marketing class at CBS — and likely the first class anywhere — to take on space tourism. Students will examine what is at stake, the history of the Virgin Galactic brand and the quantitative and qualitative research surrounding these markets. They will present a marketing plan to Virgin Galactic executives in April.
“We are working in an industry that doesn’t exist yet, so to be part of these first steps is really a privilege,” said Maisonrouge. “I really feel that the students are sharing in the passion and enthusiasm for this project, and it will definitely be an amazing semester.”