The dream of passenger travel among the stars is finally about to come true
For decades, innovative figures such as Richard Branson have been promising that commercial space travel will be within our grasp soon. Now, after many setbacks and delays, the Virgin Galactic boss said this week he expected to send test pilots into space “within weeks, not months.”
The billionaire entrepreneur intends to follow within a year. All being well, space enthusiasts with the courage – and cash, early tickets will cost £190,000 – will have the opportunity to go into orbit as soon as possible after that.
Although this project has been on Branson’s radar for about 30 years and he set up Virgin Galactic back in 2004, progress has been painfully slow. A test flight for a passenger rocket ship ended in tragedy in 2014, when a crash killed the co-pilot and left the pilot seriously injured.
It’s very possible that Branson’s renewed vigour could be at least in part due to the competition. Elon Musk’s company SpaceX recently announced it will be launching a manned mission to the Moon, with passengers, in 2023. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has even grander plans – his Blue Origin firm is planning a manned expedition into space next year.
Competition can certainly lend a fresh urgency to proceedings and when a new innovation will only be available to a privileged few, anyone looking to bring the cost and barriers to entry down will surely attract attention. But let’s hope that the race to cross the final frontier will proceed with optimum safety in mind, not just with eyes on the ultimate prize.
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