Space tourism company president talks space travel, Ohio State engineering

February 21, 2014
Steve Isakowitz, president of Virgin Galactic, speaks at Knowlton Hall Feb. 20. Credit: Matthew McGreevy / Lantern photographer

Steve Isakowitz, president of Virgin Galactic, speaks at Knowlton Hall Feb. 20.
Credit: Matthew McGreevy / Lantern photographer

The president of a company planning to send tourists to space as soon as this year came to Ohio State to talk space travel and OSU engineering.

Steve Isakowitz, the president of Virgin Galactic, a space tourism company, spoke to a crowd of roughly 275 people at Knowlton Hall Thursday.

“I wish I was an undergraduate at Ohio State,” Isakowitz, an Ohio native, said. He said he is driven by his passion for innovation and is impressed with how fast engineering has grown at OSU, as well as the quality of the students involved.

“There’s sort of a common theme of what I’ve tried to achieve in my career – it’s I love innovation,” Isakowitz said.

Virgin Galactic is owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, a venture capital company, and Aabar Investments PJS, an investment company, and is “on track to be the world’s first commercial spaceline,” according to an OSU press release about Isakowitz’s lecture.

Company representatives have said the company started test flights this year and plans to offer commercial flights to space by the end of the year. It has sold about 680 tickets, which Isakowitz said  each cost $250,000.

Isakowitz said there is a backlog of two to three years on purchasing tickets. He also said actor Leonardo DiCaprio bought a ticket for a commercial space flight and Virgin Galactic auctioned off other tickets for that flight to raise money for charity.

The vehicle Virgin Galactic is expecting to use to fly passengers into space is called SpaceShipTwo.

Isakowitz said he welcomes the competition of other space tourism companies.

“I’m a huge fan of competition. I hope we as Virgin Galactic never have a monopoly,” Isakowitz said. He added that he loves competition because it leads to innovation.

David Williams, the dean of the OSU College of Engineering, said Isakowitz was a valuable speaker to bring to OSU.

“He has a skill set that I would like to hold as an example to our students,” Williams said.

Isakowitz worked as chief financial officer of the U.S. Department of Energy through former President George W. Bush’s administration and during President Barack Obama’s administration before going to Virgin Galactic. He has also worked in administration at NASA.

“I would put Steve in the class of the enablers of great visions,” Williams said.

The winner of a competition among OSU engineering students to create a video promoting OSU engineering, a team called #BuckeyeEngineer, was announced at the discussion at Knowlton. The award for the winning team is attendance at the launch of the first commercial space flight, which Virgin Galactic is planning to have take place in New Mexico later this year.

“We thought we’d go on an adventure, even if we didn’t win,” said Hannah Zierden, a third-year in chemical engineering and member of #BuckeyeEngineer.

Chini Camargo, the events director at the OSU College of Engineering, said Isakowitz set an example of the types of speakers the college wants to draw.

“What we’re really hoping is that after Steve, we can yearly bring one person of his caliber here for the students,” Camargo said. “Just him coming here opens so many doors for the students in engineering and at Ohio State.”

Isakowitz said students who are struggling in any field should never cease to try out new things, and once a person finds their passion, they should make it their North Star.

“Working at a spaceship company. How cool is that?” he said.

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