Commercial Space Travel Takes One More Small Step

Virgin Galactic's VSS Enterprise completes first manned free flight.

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VSS EnterpriseMark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic

"Now, the sky is no longer the limit," exclaimed Virgin Galactic's Sir Richard Branson with his customary overflowing enthusiasm. He spoke Sunday at the Mojave (California) Air and Space Port on the occasion of the first free flight of VSS Enterprise (nee SpaceShipTwo), the commercial spacecraft designed to take fare-paying passengers to the edge of space. Designed by Burt Rutan, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Branson during the event, VSS Enterprise was released from its mother ship (aptly named Eve) at 45,000 feet above the high desert terrain, then glided to a safe landing 11 minutes later. At the controls were pilot Pete Siebold and copilot Mike Alsbury. The business end of the flight confirmed several parameters predicted through computer projections and simulations. They included stall behavior and general flight characteristics. Branson said, "We will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself over the next year." Click here for a YouTube video of the VSS Enterprise flight.