Branson’s Enterprise flies

British
billionaire Richard Branson’s dream of space travel that thousands of people
can afford took a leap toward reality with the maiden flight of the world’s
first commercial spacecraft over California’s Mojave Desert.

Branson’s
company Virgin Galactic announced this week VSS Enterprise successfully
completed what it called a captive carry flight attached to a carrier plane.

The
spacecraft’s developer called it a “momentous day.”

“The
captive carry flight signifies the start of what we believe will be extremely
exciting and successful spaceship flight test programme,” said Burt Rutan,
founder of Scaled Composites, which built the spacecraft.

The
VSS Enterprise remained attached to its carrier aircraft for the duration of
the 2-hour, 54-minute flight, reaching an altitude of 45,000 feet, according to
a statement from Virgin.

Eventually,
the 60-foot long rocket plane will be taken 60,000 feet above the Earth by its
carrier and fire rockets to propel itself into space.

The
test-flight programme is expected to continue through 2011, going first to a
free glide and then to a powered flight before commercial flights begin.

“Seeing
the finished spaceship in December was a major day for us but watching VSS
Enterprise fly for the first time really brings home what beautiful,
ground-breaking vehicles Burt and his team have developed for us,” Branson
said.

“Today
was another major step along that road and a testament to U.S. engineering and
innovation,” he said.

Virgin Galactic has envisioned
one flight a week, with six tourists aboard. Each will pay $200,000 for the
ride and train for at least three days before going. About 80,000 people have
placed their names on the waiting list for seats.

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The first captive-carry flight of VSS Enterprise, or SpaceShipTwo, has taken place over the Mojave, Desert in California.
Photo: File
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