Virgin Galactic sends first ship to space in test

Virgin Galactic’s first tourism spacecraft reached what the company considers to be the boundaries of space Thursday, marking the first commercial flight to hit the milestone.

The VSS Unity flew 51.4 miles (83 kilometers) into the sky before it successfully landed at the company’s facility in Mojave, California.

The flight marks a first in the burgeoning space tourism industry, which, for now, caters to the the ultra wealthy.

The company defines the edge of space in line with that of the U.S. government and Air Force. But a separate more commonly shared measure known as the Karman line places the threshold higher at 62 miles (100 kilometers).

The flight, however, is the first time humans have been sent into space from American soil since 2011.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which licensed the launch, hailed the milestone, saying it brings the U.S. “one step closer to realizing the dream of commercial human spaceflight.”

The administration is set to honor the craft’s two pilots — Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow — with commercial astronaut wings at a ceremony in Washington early next year, according to the administration.

“If you’re looking for the next big thing, commercial space is it,” said administration official Bailey Edwards. “Like the early days of aviation, these commercial space flights take grit and innovation—the very attributes it takes to blaze a trail for generations to follow.”

Virgin Galactic said NASA placed four experiments on the Unity, making it the company’s first revenue-generating flight.

“Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space,” said company founder Richard Branson.

“We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos,” he added.

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