I often write about the need for technology executives to lead courageously. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, raised the leadership bar for all of us on Sunday by rocketing to the edge of space in a spaceplane built by one of his companies.

“The suborbital trip gave the British billionaire, his three crewmates and two pilots a glimpse of the Earth from more than 50 miles up and a few minutes of weightlessness before the vehicle they were traveling in, SpaceShipTwo Unity, glided back to Earth and a landing on the runway at Virgin Galactic’s facility here in the New Mexico desert,” writes Christian Davenport of the Washington Post. “It was SpaceShipTwo’s fourth trip to the edge of space since 2018, and Virgin Galactic, the company Branson founded in 2004, says it will soon start flying paying customers regularly on similar jaunts, opening a new era in human space exploration.”

Make no mistake: Branson’s flight wasn’t a stunt. An earlier version of the spaceplane broke up, killing one pilot and injuring another. Flying into space is inherently risky, and Branson was placing his life on the line to open what he hopes will be a lucrative market for high-altitude tourism.

“Mr. Branson’s flight reinforces the hopes of space enthusiasts that routine travel to the final frontier may soon be available to private citizens, not just the professional astronauts of NASA and other space agencies. Another billionaire with his own rocket company — Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon — has plans to make a similar jaunt to the edge of space in nine days,” writes Kenneth Chang of the New York Times. “In each case, billionaire entrepreneurs are risking injury or death to fulfill their childhood aspirations — and advance the goal of making human spaceflight unexceptional.”

From my perspective, Branson’s ride into the upper atmosphere is a textbook example of courageous leadership at a time when the world needs leaders who are willing to put skin in the game and take the big risks. The first generation of astronauts had what author Tom Wolfe called “the right stuff.” I applaud Branson’s courage and his success. He’s a visionary leader and a role model for all of us.

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