Technology

Virgin Galactic edges toward space tourism with flight to boundary of space

Virgin Galactic's tourism space shuttle on Thursday flew more than 50 miles above the earth's surface, reaching a height considered by the U.S. Air Force and other government agencies to be the boundary of space.

The ship reached a height of 51 miles over California's Mojave Desert, according to The Associated Press, as the company continues its mission of eventually sending tourists into space.

The company intends to eventually accept paying customers on its six-passenger rocket.

The ship was launched Thursday with the help of a special jet before detaching at approximately 43,000 feet. The spaceship flew at nearly three times the speed of sound at its peak speed.

Mark "Forger" Stucky and former NASA astronaut Rick "CJ" Sturckow, the two test pilots, will be awarded commercial astronaut wings, the Federal Aviation Administration told the AP.

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

Virgin Atlantic's founder Richard Branson first announced the company's endeavor into space tourism in 2004. However, the process has taken longer than anticipated and suffered significant setbacks in 2007 when three technicians were killed in an explosion during a test and in 2014 when its first experimental aircraft broke apart during a test flight and killed the co-pilot.

Despite the setbacks, more than 600 people have committed up to $250,000 for trips that feature several minutes of weightlessness and a view of the Earth from high altitudes, according to the AP. 

Other tech CEOs, including Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, have also expressed interest in working on space tourism.

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