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Space Travel Takes Giant Branson-Fueled Leap
Taking another step toward space travel for all, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo lit its engine Monday, breaking the sound barrier high above California's Mojave Air and Space port with billionaire Richard Branson on hand for the event.
"Today was the most significant day in the program," Branson told NBC News. "I think that for those people who have been good enough to stick with us for the last eight years, who signed up early on, their time to become astronauts is very soon now ... We'll soon be able to make their dreams come true."
Branson reportedly has 500 would-be space travelers signed up for the $200,000, two-hour flight that will include six minutes of weightlessness.
Confirming the flight and milestone accomplishment, Branson blogged:
"This is a momentous day and the single most important flight test to date for our Virgin Galactic program. What a feeling to be on the ground with all the team in Mojave to witness Virgin Galactic go faster than the speed of sound. It marks the moment when we put together two key elements of our spaceflight system - the spacecraft and its rocket motor, which have both been tested extensively by themselves over several years - and start the phase of testing that will demonstrate our vehicle's ability to go to space (hopefully later this year)."
On board the first flight with paying passengers will be Virgin frequent fliers, allowed to trade miles for a ride in space.
[Photo credit -MarsScientific.com and Clay Center Observatory]