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Branson’s Virgin Galactic is sending tourists to space



British billionaire Richard Branson’s commercial space company is finally hitting a milestone it has worked towards for nearly two decades—sending tourists into space.

Conditions permitting, Virgin Galactic plans to launch a vehicle into orbit on Thursday that marks the company’s inaugural flight with ticketed passengers.

The crew will include British former olympian Jon Goodwin as well as University of Aberdeen student Anastatia Mayers and her mother Keisha Schahaff from the Caribbean, who won tickets through a competition. Two pilots and a support astronaut will also be a part of the mission, set to be launched from New Mexico.

“The dynamic and multi-national crew highlights the role the commercial space industry can play in removing barriers that once existed to becoming an astronaut,” Virgin Galactic said in an announcement previewing the highly-anticipated mission.  

For years, Virgin Galactic has been testing its flights in the hopes of making space travel a reality. The company launched another commercial spaceflight, Galactic 01, in June, with experts from the Italian Air Force and the National Research Centre of Italy aboard the flight for a 70-minute research mission. While that spaceflight had a research focus, the Thursday launch will flaunt tourists for the first time.

A carrier plane called VMS Eve, will carry passenger vehicle Unity to about 50,000 feet into the sky and once dropped, Unity will enter suborbital space. The journey on Unity would create several minutes of weightlessness and offer a view of the Earth’s curvature for those traveling aboard.

The landmark journey on Thursday should finally pave the way for future space trips, as the company has a long list of roughly 800 people who’ve bought tickets over the years in anticipation for their chance.

Virgin Galactic’s sales soared in the second quarter of 2023 following a successful test flight and the subsequent commercial Galactic 01 mission crewed by researchers rather than tourists. The company’s CEO, Michael Colgazier, said at the time that the company’s financial standing was “strong” to support its efforts to scale the business. 

The Orange County, Calif.-based company, founded by Branson in 2004, has sold tickets ranging from $200,000 to $450,000, with many celebrities and business persons vying for a seat in a future rocket. And although Virgin Galactic hoped to fly people into suborbital territory in 2007, the journey to its first space mission has been far from linear. The company hit roadblocks like flight crashes and slow pace of rocket upgrades, delaying its dream of having a “spaceline for Earth.” 

Branson’s brain child is far from alone in the quest to take the average person to space. In recent years, Branson’s space company has also faced competition from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. The two companies (and their founders) were trying to beat each other to go to space first—Branson and Virgin Galactic ultimately won in 2021.

Representatives at Virgin Galactic did not immediately return Fortune’s request for comment.

A live webcast of the launch will be available at 11 a.m. ET or 4 p.m. BST.





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