The Space Reviewin association with SpaceNews

Jessica French and Richard Branson
Jessica French, third from left, stands next to Richard Branson at the EAA AirVenture show in Wisconsin. (credit: J. French)

The (not so) small world of personal spaceflight

[Editor’s Note: Sam Dinkin conducted the following interview earlier this year with Jessica French, daughter of Rocketplane Kistler president George French.]

Model space

The Space Review: How did you get to be in a picture with Sir Richard Branson?

Jessica French: I was working for my father’s [George French’s] company, Rocketplane, in Oklahoma doing some design work when Face Station Inc., my modeling agency from Green Bay, Wisconsin, my hometown, called. They wanted me to work during the EAA Air Show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for a company that sounded familiar, but I just couldn’t put my finger on where I’d heard of them before.

I told my dad, “I think I’ve heard of the company, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic!” I’ve never seen him so shocked in my life! He laughed and then explained why they sounded familiar. My father assured me it was a great opportunity, and that Sir Richard was a good person to work for. My father wasn’t bothered at all and so neither was I. What a great father!

He was right. My job at the air show included meeting Sir Richard Branson, hence the picture you asked about. I enjoyed working with them—small world.

TSR: Does your design work permit you do modeling regularly?

French: Well right now I am a student at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. I am majoring in communication design with a minor in advertising, so modeling is part-time.

TSR: How did it feel to have a billionaire boss?

French: It’s a little shocking to think about working for a person with that much money, but I didn’t think about it much. It was just business, another job.

TSR: Did working for a company in competition with your father’s worry you?

French: It is competition at the highest most intimidating level, but my father is an extremely hard worker. He is driven and passionate about [Rocketplane]. He’s always been successful when he’s been so hardcore about something.

Design space

TSR: How did you find out that Space Shot needed a logo?

I told my dad, “I think I’ve heard of the company, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic!” I’ve never seen him so shocked in my life!

French: Well I was having a conversation with my dad about how much I was enjoying my logo design project in school. When I came home next I showed him my work and he was genuinely impressed, which was nice! About a week later he called to let me know that Space Shot was looking for logo designs, and if I wanted I could contact them about design submissions. So I did and my design was chosen.

TSR: How did it feel to have your logo selected by another firm competing with Virgin Galactic Quest, Branson’s skill game offering?

French: I was really surprised; being a student much of our work isn’t produced. It’s just concepts, so it was a true honor for me to have my logo chosen at all, I was so happy. As for the competition factor it’s tough because my experience with Virgin Galactic was really good, but business is business, there are no hard feelings either way.

TSR: What other art accomplishments have you achieved?

French: As far as design is concerned I have done some work for Signature Models and Talent in Phoenix. I worked in the design department at Orde Advertising. I have designed logos for friends’ businesses and sold paintings. I’ve done portraits for people and dabble in a couple of different areas of art. All of this makes my portfolio quite diverse. Every now and then I am approached for something different, and I really enjoy tackling new things, trying to find a good solution to the task at hand. I love a good challenge.

TSR: Do you find any differences between working for Americans and the English?

French: Besides the language differences, which I love, the overall atmosphere is the same. The English seem to be just as hard working and determined as Americans.

TSR: Do you find your art career or modeling career more fulfilling or both together?

French: I definitely love them both. I am passionate about art because I am never doing the same thing. With design there are so many things. But I think the fun in design is the creative aspect. As for modeling I think my attraction is getting to see myself in the end product. Being portrayed in a way other than how I am normally seen is exciting. Modeling has given me some great experiences and let me get to know some really great people and new friends. I love it!


TSR: When you go home, will you ask your dad for the keys to the family rocket?

French: Ha ha! I have trouble getting keys to a family car! But, seriously, I’ve never asked, I wonder what he would say if I did. He probably wants a set of keys himself. I’ll just tell him we can share. I think he would do that.

TSR: Do you share Sir Richard’s and your dad’s dream for the opening of space?

For me, if I have the chance to go, I would love the experience of weightlessness—true weightlessness!

French: Absolutely! Space exploration and commercial space tourism are important. I think almost every person at one time has wondered what it would feel like to experience space, looking down at the earth, floating casually with ease. The experience would be worth it for every person on so many levels. That is the reason so many people get passionately involved in this project.

TSR: What do you expect to enjoy the most about your first spaceflight?

French: For me, if I have the chance to go, I would love the experience of weightlessness—true weightlessness! That would be awesome, as well as looking down at the Earth from a distance. That would truly be a sight I can’t imagine at this point. I think the experience would be life changing and would give me a new perspective, one that reminds me how small the world really is.