Virgin Galactic’s supersonic plane reaches space

Virgin Galactic’s supersonic space plane soared into the upper reaches of Earth’s atmosphere Thursday for a milestone flight. The successful flight indicates the company is not far off from sending tourists to space.

The rocket-powered plane, VSS Unity, was flown by two veteran pilots to a maximum altitude of 51.3 miles, surpassing the 50-mile mark that the US government recognizes as the edge of space. It uses the 50-mile mark to award astronaut wings.

The test flight took off from the Mojave Air & Space Port in California at 7:11 am PT. Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic’s founder, was at the launch watching with a crowd of spectators.

“I hope we go to space today,” he said ahead of liftoff.

It was the fourth powered test flight for VSS Unity and the closest yet to mimicking the flight path that it is expected to one day take on commercial missions. Its success means the company could be just months away from taking up its first load of tourists, a goal Virgin Galactic has worked toward for 14 years.

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