Scott Borden is a future astronaut who has been training since 2008 to be one of the first civilians to experience space flight aboard a Virgin Galactic vehicle.
“I’ve been in training for 12 years now and I’m ready to go anytime,” he said.
Although Borden has yet to take that pioneering flight, he has already made a mark on the future of space and aeronautics with the Galactic Unite Borden Scholarship at San Diego State University.
“Galactic Unite is literally a brainchild of our Future Astronaut community,” said Galactic Unite director Maja Muric.
In 2010, the future astronauts — the men and women who purchased tickets to be the first civilians in space — spearheaded the program by approaching Virgin Group Ltd. Founder Sir Richard Branson to leverage the program for good. Since 2012, the program has reached hundreds of thousands of young people around the world through scholarships, mentoring, grants and “space chats education,” a virtual classroom for budding aerospace engineers. Borden started his SDSU scholarship program in late 2013.
“The opportunity to write a check and fund a scholarship to some unknown person somewhere was certainly there, but I really thought it would be more effective to try and do something locally,” Borden said.
Borden looked around and found that SDSU had a small aerospace engineering program. He met with the department heads and “they were thrilled” because they were underfunded. He also learned that SDSU students also had a volunteer program called The Rocket Project which was really underfunded.
“In fact, they were working out of an old quonset hut, literally with screwdrivers and hammers trying to make rockets so there was definitely room for improvement with proper support,” Borden said.
In the first year of his Galactic Unite program at SDSU, Borden offered scholarships for five students and also provided funding for The Rocket Project.
“I asked the kids to send me a list of what they wanted and they sent me an Amazon wish list of like a hundred items on it and I started to order them and this was at a time when TSA was checking everything and I started to realize that I was ordering what someone could look at as materials to make a you know what,” Borden recalled. “So I stopped that process and said, ‘Kids why don’t you order what you need and I’ll just write you a check.’”
Today, The Rocket Project is now 10 times the size of that first year and the program has attracted more companies to donate equipment and provide financial support.
“Their capabilities of building rockets has expanded dramatically,” Borden said.
The Rocket Project’s most recent launch in February was a success that sent a rocket dubbed The Lady Elizabeth up nearly four miles and it was also recovered because of a successful deployment of its parachutes.
“One thing I'll never forget was this group of students running after the rocket to go recover it a couple of miles away, I don’t think they realized how far it was – just the joy of that experience and watching them was really great,” Borden said.
Next year, the SDSU students will begin construction on a two-stage rocket with a goal of reaching space, a feat the group has never done before.
“I have nothing to do with that,” Borden said. “All I do is make the resources available to them and keep the program going and they take it from there. That is what has been inspiring to me to watch.”
Muric is less modest in her praise for Borden’s involvement.
“Scott really single-handedly brought this program to what it is today and really inspired others to join. He really motivated students and has been hands on – it’s a very rare thing to see. Most people just write checks,” she said. “And the kids love him. At this point, he’s one of them.”
For the last six years, Borden’s scholarship has financially benefited anywhere between five and 15 students with an average of about $1,500. This year, scholarships were awarded to nine students. But, as Muric pointed out, all students in the aerospace engineering programs at SDSU benefit because the students in the scholarship program end up sharing the wealth of knowledge the Galactic Unite mentors provide with their peers in The Rocket Project.
Another bonus for all SDSU students, not just scholarship recipients, is location.
“The geographical advantage for San Diego State University is huge,” Borden said. “Most of the students that are in the Rocket Project have had the opportunity to walk the factory floor at Virgin Orbit up in Long Beach and also The Spaceship Company [in Mojave] and meet people that are actually doing the work and building spaceships and flying them.”
Christian Engelbrecht was one of the first Galactic Unite Borden Scholarship recipients and after graduating he joined The Spaceship Company — a Virgin Group company building the company’s spacecrafts — as a full-time member of staff.
“The Galactic Unite scholarship was an invaluable stepping stone for my career; without it, I wouldn’t be living my dream job every day. The support I got progressed into an internship at The Spaceship Company, which has turned into a full-time career that I couldn’t be more fortunate to have,” Engelbrecht said. “I’ve played a vital role in Spaceship Unity’s progress towards spaceflight, and have recently started control room training. To be able to be in the control room during a human spaceflight mission is a life goal of mine.”
Spaceflight has also been a lifelong dream of Borden’s, whose father was a founder of Glenair, a California-based aerospace company founded in 1056 — the year Borden was born.
“But I didn’t pursue that as a career,” Borden said. “Most of my career has been in the travel business here in San Diego.”
In addition to running a small chain of travel agencies which he sold in 2000, Borden has also been an avocado farmer and is currently co-owner of Uptown Tavern in Hillcrest.
“I’m a natural fit for this. I’m a co-owner of a bar and restaurant, which is exactly what you would think of who would be involved in aerospace engineering,” he joked.
Jokling aside, Borden said he is looking forward to the opportunity of going to space with Virgin Galactic “when they are ready.” He added that he is confident that will be soon. In the meantime, he is thankful for the opportunity Virgin has given him to help other future astronauts and engineers at SDSU.
“The commitment across the Virgin group to supporting students, to supporting the future is really an amazing thing and not something you see often in the business world,” he said.
Virgin Galactic and Partners Announce Aerospace Leadership Program for Black Scholars
Virgin Galactic and partners today announced a new scholarship, mentoring and fellowship program for Black scholars pursuing STEM education with a focus on aerospace. To kick start the program, Virgin Galactic is committing $100,000, which will be augmented by additional donations and support.
The new effort will be supported by a growing list of organizations, including Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company, Virgin Orbit and Virgin Hyperloop. In addition, the program will connect with and take lessons from the Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut customer community, as well as the Brooke Owens Fellowship program. It builds on the success of previous and current Galactic Unite scholarship programs and initiatives that have focused on opening career opportunities within the industry to scholars.
The new program is designed to support the next generation of Black leaders, who will power the rapidly-developing aerospace industry and help solve the global challenges in years to come. As a part of this program, selected students will receive scholarship support, mentoring, summer fellowships, and job opportunities upon graduation. The aspiration is to support Black scholars through the academic pipeline to a successful early career placement opportunity.
Galactic Unite is Virgin Galactic’s long-standing outreach initiative that is a collaboration between company staff, the Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut community, and Virgin Unite foundation. In 2012, Galactic Unite launched its first program, a perpetual scholarship created in partnership with the United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the nation’s largest minority education organization, to support women pursuing STEM careers.
This was followed by a second program launched in South Africa, designed to support historically disadvantaged Black South African students. This program funded scholars for a three-year term, each receiving the largest annual awards in our scholarship program. The first recipient Rofhiwa Josephine Mukhondo said: “This scholarship gave me the chance to experience a fantastic academic environment and a chance to explore unique new opportunities. I still get goose bumps when I think of how big and great this scholarship program is, and then I have to pinch myself to make sure this is real!”
Thanks to the generous donations of Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts, Galactic scholarship programs have already awarded over $1 million to 90 students all over the world. Presently, half of the scholarship recipients are women, and currently 43% of all recipients represent ethnic minorities, including Black, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian and Pacific Islander. Galactic Unite scholarship recipients are employed across our Virgin space companies, and give back to the program through support and mentorship to STEM students.
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said: “I’m incredibly proud of our entire team involved in conceiving this remarkable program. At Virgin Galactic, part of our mission is to inspire the next generation of engineers, pilots and rocket scientists to pursue careers in the space industry, and we are pleased to see that so many future experts have benefited from our existing Galactic Unite programs. Through our Galactic Unite initiative, we’ve continued to award scholarships to students throughout the pandemic, and expanding our work to support more Black American STEM scholars is a testament to our team’s ambition to make space truly accessible for all.”
The Galactic Unite outreach initiative is designed to invest in and support future generations, who will power the rapidly developing aerospace industry and solve global challenges in years to come. If you are interested in learning more about the program plans, or becoming a partner to the effort, please contact [email protected].
—Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at [email protected]