Virgin Galactic just took a big step toward launching tourists into space from New Mexico.
The company just sent a couple pilots to the edge of the space and back in the White Knight Two, officially the first manned space vehicle built for commercial passengers to reach space.
Thursday’s launch from the Mojave Air and Space Port in Southern California marks a milestone toward Virgin Galactic’s longtime venture of taking tourists to space.
“That’s something we’ve been looking forward to for 14 years,” Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson said at the launch.
Virgin Galactic is the main tenant at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico.
For years, Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson has been promising 90-minute suborbital flights.
But, the mission has drawn criticism through the years as the $220 million Spaceport sits mostly empty.
“‘Oh, this is going to be the greatest thing. We’re going to have tourism, we’re going to have everybody up and running,'” State Sen. George Munoz told KRQE News 13 in 2017. “Twelve years later, here we are.”
Thursday’s flight brings hope for the company.
It was in 2014 that White Knight One crashed during a test flight over the Mojave, killing the co-pilot.
With this launch, the company can start preparations to begin a full tourism program.
“We are looking forward to moving through the test program and getting down to Spaceport America when we’re finished wth our test program,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said.
About 600 future passengers are already prepared to pay upwards of $250,000 for the ride of a lifetime.
Nevertheless, Whitesides said the timetable for that is still up in the air.
“We’re going to have to look at the data from today’s flight first and make sure that we understand it like we do for every flight,” Whitesides said. “We’re in the middle of a test flight program and we have to take it step by step, but I think the wondrous thing is the views pilots had when they got to space, and I just think about the amazing views that people will have when they’re hanging out there in space above New Mexico and what an amazingly beautiful experience that will be.”
This was Virgin Galactic’s fourth rocket-powered flight of its test program.
The company was supposed to start flying to space about a decade ago.