Virgin Galactic Makes First Test Flight - New York News

Virgin Galactic Makes First Test Flight

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Virgin Galactic's attempt to develop the world's first commercial manned space flight system and tourism business completed a crucial step this weekend.

The SpaceShipTwo, also known as VSS Enterprise, achieved a manned free flight from over 45,000 feet. It was released from its mothership at an altitude of 45,000 feet as pilot Pete Siebold and co-pilot Mike Alsbury flew free and glided back to land at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

The free flight also allowed for other system and performance checks.

"To see the world's first manned commercial spaceship landing on a runway is a sight I always dreamed I would behold," stated Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides in a press release. "Now, our challenge going forward will be to complete our experimental program, obtain our FAA license and safely bring the system into service at Spaceport America, New Mexico."

The Christian Science Monitor reported that rocket tests lie ahead. Sunday's flight simulated what will be the last phase of any future space shot.

The newspaper reported that Virgin Galactic owner Richard Branson recently promised that the ship would begin its space shots within 18 months. More than 340 people have signed up, including about 100 who have paid the $200,000 fare and others who have made down payments of $20,000.

The Seattlepi.com blog said that the company plans to operate from Spaceport America in New Mexico. A runway inauguration ceremony is set for Oct. 22.

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