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Virgin Galactic Supports its Communities During COVID-19 Pandemic

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
March 31, 2020
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George Whitesides

Message from George Whitesides
Virgin Galactic CEO

All over the globe, we are seeing and feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  This is one of the most significant crises we have seen in our lifetimes.  Whether it is the brave doctors and nurses working around the clock to help patients, children helping their elderly parents stay safe and fed, or parents and teachers keeping their kids educated while schools are physically closed – we are all in this together and we have a responsibility to help care for one another.

With the impact of COVID-19 mounting every day, our team has worked hard to help tackle this crisis, with an initial focus on the communities we work in.  I am proud of the commitment and initiative of our people at Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company, and Virgin Group in helping to support relief efforts.  Led by our in-house flight doctors, our COVID-19 team has been working closely with local hospitals, commercial suppliers, and government authorities to provide help where it is needed most.

Here are some examples of the work we are doing to help:

Helping the Medical Supply Shortage

  • Recognizing the national shortage of medical equipment, we have donated medical supplies from our stocks to communities in California and New Mexico, including masks, suits, and gloves.  Where we do not have in-house stocks of needed equipment, as with pulse oximeters and certain types of protective suits, we have arranged for units to be acquired quickly and donated in partnership with our local city governments.
Masks prepared for donation. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
  • For example, we first donated several hundred N95 masks to the Antelope Valley Hospital in California, Memorial Medical Center and MountainView Regional Hospital in New Mexico, and the HSHS Holy Family Hospital in Greenville, Illinois.  When we heard they needed more, we talked with our partners and have been able to set up a donation for several thousand additional units.
  • We are also donating PAPRs (Powered Air Purifying Respirators) to local hospitals. These important machines offer additional protection for the front-line workers who are in the closest physical proximity to those patients suffering from COVID-19.
  • We are helping support the purchase of fast COVID-19 testing machines in both New Mexico and California to improve diagnostic times. The quicker we can detect the presence of the virus, the better it will be for local hospitals and the more accurately we can limit the spread. Fast, universal testing will also be crucial to turning the tide and getting our economy back to work.
  • One key area that the doctors at the Antelope Valley Hospital identified early on was the need for supplemental oxygen hoods as a tool to support the broader patient population. These hoods can be used for patients who are in the hospital with respiratory problems, but who have not yet gotten to the point where they need a ventilator (or if no ventilators are available).  A bit of extra pressure in the lungs can keep the lung’s alveoli open and may help some patients from needing a vent – which could mean better patient outcomes.
  • Our engineering teams, in collaboration with industry aerospace engineers, have been working on designs to manufacture a low cost breathing hood that provides oxygen rich positive pressure to patients in need.
  • In parallel, my family is helping one company called Sea Long in Waxahachie, Texas to ramp up production so that they can be producing hundreds and soon thousands of oxygen hoods per week to help people across the country.
  • We are also bringing food to front line health workers and other support organizations who need help, through the delivery of boxed lunches to medical centers in New Mexico – and Snack Nation snack boxes to Mojave High School and Grace Resources in California.
Donated food (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Education: Talking to the Millions of Kids at Home

  • With schools shut and kids at home with a thirst to learn, we are launching a new live educational series that will run from the Virgin Galactic YouTube channel, called Spacechat LIVE. Launched in conjunction with our outreach initiative, Galactic Unite, we will be presenting regular live Spacechats on different topics each time, featuring our very own experts across the company. First up is Beth Moses, our Chief Astronaut Instructor who will be talking about what it’s like to travel to space based on her very own spaceflight experience. You can tune into this episode on Thursday, April 2 at 9.30AM PT. We are also developing a special online Virgin Galactic Kids’ Corner with downloadable assets to accompany the Spacechats.

In our industry we talk a lot about the Overview Effect, the profound realization upon seeing Earth from space that we are all in this together on this spaceship Earth.  The Overview Effect is a realization of the oneness of humankind, and the precious biosphere of Earth in the vast unforgiving vacuum of space.   Many astronauts, upon returning from space, report a newfound appreciation for our home planet and the importance of keeping, caring for, and preserving it.  I can’t help but reflect on our current situation and feel that this terrible challenge has also given us a sense of global community, that we are in this together and we have a responsibility to help our global population get through it.

I have always been an optimist at heart, and a believer in the power of science and innovation to improve our planet.  I am of the opinion that human beings are fundamentally good, and that shared challenge can bring out our best.  COVID-19 requires all of us to get in the fight and do what we can immediately. This is a very challenging time, and it may well get worse for the next bit, but if we work together – deploying human ingenuity, toughness, and community resilience – we will beat it.