The test flight foreshadows a civilian space race that could kick off as soon as next year, with the British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic battling other billionaire-backed ventures to be the first to offer suborbital flights to tourists who pony up the hefty fares.
Virgin’s airplane-like SpaceShipTwo took off on Thursday morning from California’s Mojave air and space port, about 90 miles (145km) north of Los Angeles.
Richard Branson, wearing a leather bomber jacket with a fur collar, attended the takeoff along with hundreds of spectators on a crisp morning in the California desert.
After the rocket plane topped 50-mile altitude – reaching what some agencies consider the edge of space – a crying Branson high-fived and hugged spectators.
“Take off! WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo have taken to the skies,” Branson said on Twitter….