The first passenger aboard the Virgin Galactic traveled safely to the edges of outer space and back again today, marking a new milestone in the era of commercial space travel.
The company’s chief astronaut instructor, Beth Moses, boarded the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity along with two pilots, per a report from Reuters. While a passenger, Moses was there to test both the customer experience and the cabin. She called the experience an "indescribable ride."
The aircraft took off from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 8 a.m. local time. After reaching an altitude of about 44,000 feet, the spaceship then disconnected from the carrier plane before propelling itself 55 miles above the Earth. The craft had previously reached 51 miles, but those last four were enough to clear Earth's atmosphere.
Pilot David Mackay called it "an important step" toward the company's goal of making this a regular event. When up and running, a 90-minute flight will cost a mere quarter million dollars — a price that's expected to go up before declining.
This is likely especially exciting news to the 600-plus people who have already bought tickets for a similar experience. Some of those advance ticket holders were present at the launch, as was CEO George Whitesides.
"We’re in the 50th anniversary year of Apollo," Whitesides proclaimed. "Just like they had to do each step, we have to expand the envelope and do something more."
Virgin founder Richard Branson is in a commercial space race with Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX. Branson himself is planning to be the first one aboard SpaceShipTwo when it's ready for commercial space flight, which he wants to happen by the middle of this calendar year.