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Virgin Galactic Takes Next Step Towards Space Tourism

Virgin Galactic Takes Next Step Towards Space Tourism

The rocket-powered plane, VSS Unity, was flown by two veteran pilots to a maximum altitude of 51.4 miles, surpassing the 50-mile mark that the U.S. government recognizes as the edge of space.

VSS Unity travels in suborbital space.

"We made it to space", the company said on Twitter. It cost a very similar price to what we're spending today to put people into space. "How on Earth do I describe the feeling?" he said. Elon Musk's SpaceX, in partnership with NASA, is planning crewed missions for early next year, and Jeff Bezos announced that Blue Origin plans to send its first crew to space in 2019.

One Virgin Galactic goal is to create a business model that quickly reuses the spacecraft for space tourism.

In July, after burning the rocket motor for 42 seconds, the VSS Unity reached a height of 32 miles. Then, the VSS Unity activates its rockets to push itself even faster, turning upward at the same time. Eve released VSS Unity at an altitude above 40,000 feet. During the launch, the spacecraft achieved speeds of just under mach 3.0 (3 times the speed of sound). Those promises have yet to come to fruition, but it hasn't stopped the company from making similar promises about realising commercial space flights for passengers in the near future.

Sturckow is also a former Marine and was a NASA astronaut who flew on four Space Shuttle missions. The Federal Aviation Administration said both pilots will receive their commercial astronaut wings at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. early next year.

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Reportedly, Bezos pumps almost $1 billion a year from his Amazon holdings into Blue Origin, a rocket-building company that last tested the New Shepard rocket 322, 405 feet above earth last April. Already, on this test, the rocket carried a mannequin named Annie as a stand-in passenger, as well as four research experiments for NASA. The flight on December 13 was Virgin Galactic's longest rocket-powered flight ever. Branson shunned the money after learning about the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in October.

"I think Theresa May needs to be 100% honest with the public", Branson told the BBC. "Space is not cheap", he said. "I always get these estimates wrong".

Virgin Galactic has not said exactly when it plans to begin commercial flights. Branson has said he intends to be on the first commercial flight.

The successful launch comes after the original SpaceShip Two crashed during a test flight in 2014, killing the co-pilot and gravely injuring the pilot. But Virgin Galactic bounced back. The company is charging £190,000 for a 90-minute flight which will offer space tourists an opportunity to enjoy the breathtaking view of the curvature of Earth while flying more than 82 kilometres above the Earth's surface and also experience zero gravity conditions for a few minutes.

Both companies are still in the testing phase.