Science

Virgin Galactic successfully launches tourism rocket ship into space for first time

Virgin Galactic successfully launches tourism rocket ship into space for first time”

A Virgin Galactic rocket plane reached space yesterday and returned safely to the California desert, capping years of testing to become the first USA commercial human flight to breach Earth's atmosphere since America's shuttle program ended in 2011.

The Federal Aviation Administration's acting head Dan Elwell commended Virgin Galactic on its successful flight.

Branson isn't alone in the space tourism business: Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin is planning to take space tourists on trips, using the more traditional method of a capsule atop a rocket that blasts off from a launch pad.

"The two pilots on board during the flight, Mark '"Forger"' Stucky and Frederick "'CJ"' Sturckow, landed safely back on the ground about an hour after entering the cockpit.

Virgin's first flight date had been pushed back multiple times, following a test flight accident that killed a co-pilot in 2014.

The successful flight is significant progress toward the start of commercial flights that Virgin Galactic promised more than a decade ago. The spaceship will also be used for research: NASA had science experiment on the test flight.

"I think that Theresa May just needs to be 100 percent honest with the public", Branson told the BBC.

As VSS Unity coasted upwards through the black sky and into space, Virgin Galactic Mission Control confirmed the news and congratulated the two astronaut pilots: "Unity, Welcome to Space".

SpaceShipTwo's rocket motor burnt for 60 seconds, in which time it hit a top speed of Mach 2.9 (or 2.9 times the speed of sound) - but it fell just short of space.

WATCH: Virgin Galactic tourism rocket reaches space

Virgin Galactic has been operating for a long time compared with other private spaceflight companies, but it had never actually flown in space before now. The very same spacecraft is expected to one day transport not only trained pilots but tourists as well.

"What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the twenty-first century's defining industries".

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.

SpaceX, the company founded by Elon Musk, and Boeing are under contract with NASA to fly astronauts to the International Space Station, the orbiting laboratory, by as early as next year.

"It was a great flight and I can't wait to do it again", said Sturckow, who flew on the space shuttle four times.

Virgin Galactic has been hungry for cash since Richard Branson announced he would no longer accept a $1 billion investment from Saudi Arabia.

"From our Virgin companies' point of view, a hard Brexit would torpedo some of our companies", he said, adding that Virgin Holidays would be hit as the pound would drop to parity and fewer people would be able to afford to go overseas.

More than 600 clients have already paid $250,000 for a ticket.



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