Virgin Galactic celebrates as tourism rocket ship reaches space

The VSS Unity was released from its carrier aircraft at an altitude of approximately 8 miles

Image The VSS Unity was released from its carrier aircraft at an altitude of approximately 8 miles

An exuberant Branson took the stage at the Mojave Air and Space Port here to congratulate the company and its employees for a successful test flight December 13 of the SpaceShipTwo vehicle named VSS Unity, which reached a peak altitude of 82.7 kilometers.

The Air Force considers 50 miles up as the point at which space begins, CBS News space consultant William Harwood reported.

For the first time in the company's 14-year history, the Richard Branson space outfit has sent one of their suborbital SpaceShipTwo spacecraft to space - at least by their definition. It was an indescribable feeling: "joy, relief, exhilaration and anticipation for what is yet to come".

Branson, who plans to be on the first passenger trip aboard VSS Unity, has said he hoped Virgin Galactic's pilots would reach space before December 25. Today we completed our first revenue generating flight and our pilots earned their Commercial Astronaut Wings. Aboard were test pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and C.J Sturckow.

Virgin Galactic reaches space for the first time during its 4th powered flight from Mojave, Calif.

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It should be noted that Virgin is using one measure of where space begins - but it's not the only one. The Karman Line is the region of the atmosphere considered to be the edge of "space." at an altitude of 62 miles (100 km).

The VSS Unity took off the Mojave Desert early on Thursday
Image The VSS Unity took off the Mojave Desert early on Thursday

The billionaire businessman made reference to those who had sacrificed their lives for the Virgin Galactic cause, such as the co-pilot who had died after a crash in 2014. An investigation found that human error - the braking system was triggered too early - and inadequate safety measures were to blame.

The VSS Unity is a SpaceShipTwo air-launched rocket plane that has been designed specifically for commercial use.

In previous test flights, SpaceShipTwo flew to a peak altitude of 32 miles (52 km).

Unlike other rockets launched by NASA, Virgin's spacecraft does not make a vertical launch from a pad on the ground.

When asked about Virgin Galactic's competitors in a recent interview with CNN Business, Branson said it was not a "race". Instead, it is carried into the sky by another, larger plane, which then detaches the craft and drops it like a bomb.

After successfully reaching space and then landing back on Earth, SpaceShipTwo is now the first craft to launch humans into space from US soil since NASA's Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. Then, the VSS Unity activates its rockets to push itself even faster, turning upward at the same time. After the rocket plane topped 50-mile altitude, reaching an apogee of 51.4 miles above earth, a crying Branson high-fived and hugged spectators. These missions will allow customers to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and also see the curvature of Earth against the blackness of space, company representatives have said. The price for a single ticket runs up to a quarter of a million dollars.

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