Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Virgin Galactic to Train "Private Astronauts" for NASA

By Rich Smith – Jun 22, 2020 at 1:44PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Virgin can't fly to ISS itself, but it can help other folks prepare to make the trip.

Shares of space tourism pioneer Virgin Galactic Holdings (SPCE 7.60%) took off like ... well, like a rocketship this morning. Shares are up more than 13% in early afternoon trading after the company announced that it has inked a deal with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to "develop a new private orbital astronaut readiness program."

SpaceShipTwo rocketing towards space.

Image source: Virgin Galactic.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine had previously alluded to this news on Friday, "tweeting" that NASA has plans to fly astronauts "on commercial suborbital spacecraft."

At the time, Bridenstine did not specify precisely which "commercial suborbital spacecraft" company he was talking about: There are two, Virgin Galactic, and the Blue Origin space company founded by (AMZN 4.50%) CEO Jeff Bezos. 

Within the new program announced today, Virgin Galactic will be tasked with "identifying candidates interested in purchasing private astronaut missions to the" International Space Station (ISS), with providing "program management and integrated astronaut training packages," and, ultimately. "the procurement of transportation to the ISS, on-orbit resources, and ground resources."

Neither NASA nor Virgin appears to be claiming that Virgin Galactic spacecraft themselves will fly to ISS, just train astronauts to do so. Indeed, Virgin's spacecraft probably cannot make the trip. The highest altitude Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo experimental spaceplanes have yet reached falls short of even the 62-mile-high "Karman line" marking where "Earth" ends and "space" begins, and ISS orbits 200 miles higher up than that.

Thus, it would appear that to "procure" transportation to ISS, Virgin Galactic will need to find another company to fly astronauts to their final destination. Over at SpaceX and Boeing, operators surely are standing by and awaiting the call if needed.

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Rich Smith has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc and recommends the following options: short January 2022 $1940 calls on Amazon and long January 2022 $1920 calls on Amazon. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. Stock Quote
Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc.
$5.24 (7.60%) $0.37, Inc. Stock Quote, Inc.
$121.09 (4.50%) $5.21

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 10/04/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.