Virgin Galactic lead engineer Colin Bennett looks back on the trip of a lifetime and the place he calls home
It’s a long way from Clevedon to space, but only one man, Colin Bennett, has strong connections to both. Having taken his place alongside Sir Richard Branson among the team of six on Virgin Galactic Unity 22’s spaceflight on July 11, Colin has earned local hero status in Clevedon, with his former school naming its science block after him, as well as plenty of attention from the global media.
Weeks after the trip to space, Colin said he was still replaying the flight over and over again in his head and happy to discuss what for him was the most fun day at work ever. “Given a chance I would do that again in a heartbeat,” he said. “I am so privileged and honoured to be given this opportunity and responsibility. I’m looking forward to seeing the looks on other people’s faces when they get to experience what I did.” In particular, Colin said that he knows future customers are going to love the part of the flight when the rocket motor ignites, describing it as “very intense but also very smooth and comfortable”, as well as being able to look down at the amazing view of the vibrant colours of Earth against the blackness of space while also floating around the cabin. “The videos and photos don’t quite do it justice,” he said.
Today, Colin is based in Las Cruces, New Mexico, about an hour away from Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport, his place of work and where the flight took off from. Although over the years he has lived in many places, Clevedon is still where he considers home, having moved there at the age of 10, just in time to start Year 7, the first year of senior school. This was “the perfect time”, said Colin, “as a lot of kids were breaking away from groups of friends to go to the big school, so I didn’t feel that much of an outsider”. What he remembers most of those early days was his excitement at living by the sea for the first time and indulging his love of sports by joining the local football team.
One enduring friend from those Clevedon days is Aleanna Crane, Virgin Galactic’s vice president of communications, who landed the job after Colin alerted her to the vacancy. “Aleanna is a superstar and I knew she’d be a good fit for that job,” said Colin. “It’s really cool to have that connection back to Clevedon for both of us.” As for Colin’s other friends back in Clevedon, the good news is that he is looking forward to getting back and seeing them as soon as he can, although for the moment he and his wife are staying put. “We have a baby on the way, it could be any day or any hour. I have to stick around at home for a while,” he said with a smile. “I would like to get back there around Christmas time if I can. I have a lot of people to catch up with. I’d love to go and see the school. It would be great to go and say hello to the students and staff there.”