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Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson reaches space, leading an era of ‘space tourism’

On Sunday, founder of Virgin Galactic Richard Branson flew to space on a sub-orbital test flight as a part of Virgin Galactic’s effort to start the space tourism industry. His flight departed from a launch site in New Mexico at around 8:30 am. After a safe landing, Branson said: “It’s 17 years of painstaking work, the occasional horrible down – and large ups with it. And today was definitely the biggest up.”

The flight took Branson to an altitude of about 50 miles and he eventually landed in New Mexico. The crew was able to spend time enjoying the zero-gravity experience before their landing.

Branson successfully beat his space-race competitor, founder of Amazon Jeff Bezos, who plans to take his own sub-orbital trip on Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft on July 20. Under Branson’s Instagram post, Bezos left a congratulatory note reading: “Congratulations on the flight. Can’t wait to join the club!”

George Whitesides, former CEO of Virgin Galactic, shared with Insider that the company plans to earn $10-15 billion per year from its space tourism industry, launching 400 flights each year.

The two billionaires are marking the beginning of a new era of space tourism, where people will be able to make recreational visits to space. Both companies will soon be ready to end their test flight stages and begin scheduling commercial flights. Many already reserved their spot on the waitlists for $250 thousand per seat.

Nearly 600 people have already made their reservations, including Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber. Soon, recreational space travel may become far more than something found in a sci-fi movie. Laura Forczyck, from Astralytical, a space consulting firm, told MIT Technology Review that in the future, there could be a normalized space tourism industry that isn’t exclusive to the extremely wealthy, saying: “This could be the dawn of really true commercial space tourism.”

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