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Virgin Galactic: 10 images recap the voyage to the edge of space

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You may have an unexpected new choice of destination for your next summer vacation — assuming you have a few hundred thousand dollars to spend.

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On Sunday, July 11, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson was on board for a test flight of the company’s SpaceShipTwo, accompanied by three employees and two pilots.

Dubbed VSS Unity, the space plane completed three previous test flights. This was the first flight with a full crew.

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#1: Branson’s 90-minute flight took off from Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America in New Mexico. With a global livestream and a performance from singer Khalid, the atmosphere was far from a typical spacecraft launch.

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#2: The plane itself is equally unconventional. Unity lifted off attached to a custom high-altitude WhiteKnightTwo aircraft called VMS Eve.

#3: At 8.5 miles up, Unity detached from Eve, firing its own engine to propel its crew at Mach 3 toward space.

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#4: At the highest point in the flight, Unity’s crew had a few minutes to experience weightlessness, and for Branson to deliver a message to viewers.

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#5: Here’s Branson’s message from space.Virgin Galactic

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#6: Unity and its crew topped out just past 53 miles above sea level, which led to some squabbling over whether it really reached space.

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Though NASA and the FAA consider space to start at 50 miles above sea level, not everyone agrees.

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Internationally, the border of space is recognized as the Kármán line — the point, 62 miles above Earth, where the atmosphere is too thin for aircraft to fly using an aerodynamic lift.

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That distinction is especially important since Virgin Galactic isn’t the only company offering trips to the final frontier.

The Jeff Bezos-founded Blue Origin is also looking to send ultra-rich clients to space in the near future. The company pointed out in a tweet that its craft will fly above the Kármán line.

Blue Origin

Bezos is set to fly to space aboard a Blue Origin ship on July 20...

... meaning Branson beat him to the punch by nine days, despite insisting that they’re not competing in a billionaire space race.

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Virgin Galactic

#7: Also aboard Unity were Virgin Galactic’s vice president of government affairs and research operations, Sirisha Bandla; lead flight operations engineer, Colin Bennet; and chief astronaut instructor, Beth Moses.

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#8: Unity was piloted by astronauts Dave Mackay and Miachel Masucci.

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#9: Along with securing bragging rights for Branson, the trip marked SpaceShipTwo’s first fully crewed flight to space, a milestone in the burgeoning space tourism industry.

#10: Virgin Galactic’s spaceships, like the one pictured here, are on schedule to take tourists to space by 2022.

Read more stories on space here.

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