When Patrick Moran was growing up in Arlington, he had stars in his eyes.
“My uncle Michael planted the seed in my mind when I was 9 years old. He flew H-3 helicopters off aircraft carriers after graduating from the [U.S.] Naval Academy in 1973, and his stories of flight school, squadron life and flying around the boat were awesome to this young and impressionable nephew. I knew then that I wanted to fly jets, and that became my goal as I navigated high school and college,” recalls Moran, who graduated from Arlington’s Yorktown High School in 1990 and then went on to the University of Virginia to earn an engineering degree.
Moran’s career took him to the Marine Corps, where he was a fighter pilot who led combat missions in Iraq and served as a government test pilot for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. After two decades, he continued as a pilot and instructor in the civilian aerospace industry.
So when Virgin Galactic—the Richard Branson helmed company focused on turning commercial space flight into a reality—came calling, he was ready. In September, Moran was named to the company’s Pilot Corps. He and seven others are training to take civilians into space. And yes, it’s as cool as it sounds. As Moran explains, the system comprises both a mother ship and a spaceship. “WhiteKnightTwo is a custom-built aircraft that carries SpaceShipTwo up to approximately 45,000 feet, then releases it before the spaceship fires its rocket motor and flies straight up into space, gliding back down to Earth after reaching apogee some 50 miles up.”
Virgin Galactic expects to start commercial flights— where civilians will fly with someone like Moran for a spectacular view of Earth from a spaceship—as early as this year. Though don’t look for frequent flyer miles quite yet. Flights are expected to cost more than $250,000, and a limited number will be available.
But Moran says it’s all part of a first step of welcoming more humans into orbit.
“I am compelled by the opportunity to be a part of this pioneering effort to explore and expand mankind’s next great frontier,” he says. “To innovate new technologies, to overcome new challenges, to make space safely and widely accessible.”
And did his upbringing in Northern Virginia have anything to do with where he is today? He credits his high school with laying the foundation for taking tothe skies.
“I took Yorktown High School for granted when I was younger,” he says. “It was just another high school, or so I thought before I moved from coast to coast and saw other schools in seven different states. With a new perspective, I now realize that YHS offered a remarkably exceptional ecosystem of teachers, students and community. At Yorktown in the late ’80s, I had passionate and committed teachers, talented and tough coaches and a diverse and motivated student body. My teachers’ instruction helped me be competitive for top universities and succeed in a rigorous college engineering curriculum, gearing me up for success as a test pilot. My football and wrestling coaches gave me the mental toughness and leadership foundations to lead Marines in combat, run a small business and be a team player in cutting-edge organizations.”
The Right Stuff, indeed.