Virgin Galactic Says They'll Fly Their First Astronauts Into Space Before Christmas

With all the recent excitement about colonizing the Moon and visiting Mars, Virgin Galactic’s decade-plus experiment with sub-orbital space tourism has always seemed like the one space venture that never quite took flight. After an accident that killed a test pilot in 2004 and roughly 11 years of delays, Richard Branson’s dreams of giving everyone access to space (as long as they have $200K sitting around) seemed to have quietly petered out… Which makes it all the more surprising that Branson told CNN that Virgin Galactic will carry its first astronauts into space before this Christmas.

According to Branson: “Space is difficult. Rocket science is rocket science. I obviously would love to prove our critics wrong, and I’m reasonably confident that before Christmas, we will do so. I think once we’re in space, we’ll obviously need to do a number of other test flights before I go up, and then before we start putting the … astronauts who signed up to go into space with us.”

Yes, you read that correctly – after the test pilots have successfully flown SpaceShipTwo (Virgin Galactic’s flagship spacecraft) into space, Branson himself will be the first civilian passenger to make the trip. It’s a bold move, but it’s bound to assure Virgin Galactic’s roughly 600-person waiting list that the flights are safe. “Safety’s all that matters if you’re putting people into space,” said Branson. “So none of us will race to be the first [to bring astronauts to space].”

Meanwhile, Branson is aware that he’s got some major competition in the space industry, including Jeff Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin, which is also planning on offering space tourists a ride to the Final Frontier. “Elon’s done extraordinary things,” Branson admitted to CNN. “We hope to do extraordinary things. Jeff, I’m sure, will do extraordinary things. The demand for space travel, whether it’s satellites, putting people into space, is enormous…So, exciting times ahead.”

Image credit: Roderick Eime/Traveloscopy CC BY-ND 2.0