Though SpaceX is the big name in the field, it’s not the only company planning to make tourists trips into space a reality. Virgin Galactic has also been working on a project to take private passengers outside of Earth’s atmosphere, and this week it sent its first passenger to the edge of space. Virgin Galactic has been working on commercial spacecraft since 2004. But it has suffered setbacks such as the dramatic crash of the Virgin spaceplane SpaceShip Two VSS Enterprise during a test flight in 2014, which killed the co-pilot and injured the pilot. Since then the company has been making steady progress on its space program, and conducted a successful test flight to the edge of space last year.
On Friday at just after 11 a.m. ET, the VSS Unity, the new version of the SpaceShip Two, managed to climb to its highest ever altitude, flying at 55.85 miles (90 kilometers) above the Earth, just short of the generally agreed upon 62 mile (100 kilometer) boundary which is recognized as the start of space. This means that technically, the craft achieved a sub-orbital spaceflight as it reached outer space but its trajectory intersected with the Earth’s atmosphere in such a way that it would not have been able to orbit around the planet. Eventually the company wants to offer not only sub-orbital passengers flights but also orbital human spaceflights as well.
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) February 22, 2019
Aboard the craft were chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses and pilots Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci and Dave Mackay. Moses was carried in the passenger cabin, marking the first time that Virgin Galactic has sent a passenger into space. Moses’ job was to evaluate the experience that paying customers will eventually have in the cabin, and when passengers do begin taking trips, she will be the person charged with training them. According to Reuters, she described the experience as an “indescribable ride” and added a message for company founder Richard Branson: “Richard, you’re going to love it.”
The waiting list for Virgin Galactic’s space tourism flights is already 600 people long and includes celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Justin Bieber. But if you want to sign up to experience zero-g for yourself, you better start saving — the trip costs $ 250,000 for a 90 minute flight.