More than two years after one of its spacecrafts crashed, killing the co-pilot, Virgin Galactic sent its SpaceShipTwo back in the air this weekend for its first “glide flight.”
Taking off from the Mojave Air and Space Port on Saturday morning, the spacecraft flew for about an hour tethered to the belly of its mothership, known as WhiteKnightTwo. Then pilots released the spacecraft, which did not fire its engines but glided safely down back to the ground.
The company, founded by Richard Branson, plans to eventually take paying customers past the edge of space, where they would experience several minutes of weightlessness. More than 700 people have bought tickets costing as much as $250,000. That's more than the total number of people who have ever been to space.
In 2014, an earlier version of SpaceShipTwo came apart midflight. Since then, the company has redesigned the vehicle, dubbing the new version VSS Unity and making it safer, the company said.
In a blog post, Branson thanked his team and said that “their everyday work is paving the way for everyday citizens to one day experience the thrills of SpaceShipTwo and views of our home planet from space.”
Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com (and owner of The Washington Post) also plans to fly paying customers to space. But his company, Blue Origin, intends to do it in a rocket that would take off vertically.