Virgin Galactic Founder Richard Branson was one of three people honored for contributions to further space exploration during the Apollo Celebration Gala held at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Saturday.
Branson was honored along with Apollo flight director Gerry Griffin and Carolyn Williams, chairwoman of the From One Hand to AnOTHER Foundation. The dinner kicked off a year-long celebration of the Apollo program leading to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969.
Branson was given the 2018 Apollo Celebration Innovation Award for “his mission is to create the world’s first commercial spaceline,” according to the gala’s website. “Virgin Galactic is developing and operating a new generation of space vehicles to open space for everyone. Determined to innovate and create a better future for our society and our planet, they promise to inspire future generations and make it possible to see our beautiful home planet from a new perspective.”
The billionaire, who also founded The Spaceship Company and Virgin Orbit, didn’t attend the gala but addressed the crowd via a recorded video.
“Space is still hard, really hard. It still really matters,” Branson said. “There would be no Virgin Galactic, no Virgin Orbit and no Spaceship Company had it not been for Apollo astronauts and the thousands of talented people who made their mission possible.”
Griffin received the 2018 Apollo Celebration Pioneer Award for his work on America’s manned lunar program.
“At the heart of the remarkable Apollo Space Program was the team who worked in Mission Control,” the website said. “During NASA’s Apollo Program, Gerry Griffin was a Flight Director and served in this capacity for all of the Apollo manned missions. Incredibly, he was Lead Flight Director for three lunar landing missions: Apollo 12, 15 and 17.”
Williams was honored with the 2018 Apollo Celebration Education Award for being “an advocate for educating underserved youth and serves as Chairwoman for the From One Hand to AnOTHER Foundation with an impressive curriculum focusing on S.T.E.A.M.M. —Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics and Motivation,” the website said.