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World

AFP
July 14, 2018

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First space tourist flights could come in 2019

WASHINGTON: The two companies leading the pack in the pursuit of space tourism say they are just months away from their first out-of-this-world passenger flights -- though neither has set a firm date.

Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, and Blue Origin, by Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, are racing to be the first to finish their tests -- with both companies using radically different technology.

Neither Virgin nor Blue Origin’s passengers will find themselves orbiting the Earth: instead, their weightless experience will last just minutes. It’s an offering far different from the first space tourists, who paid tens of millions of dollars to travel to the International Space Station (ISS) in the 2000s.

Having paid for a much cheaper ticket -- costing $250,000 with Virgin, as yet unknown with Blue Origin -- the new round of space tourists will be propelled dozens of miles into the atmosphere, before coming back down to Earth. By comparison, the ISS is in orbit 250 miles (400 kilometers) from our planet. The goal is to approach or pass through the imaginary line marking where space begins -- either the Karman line, at 100 kilometers or 62 miles, or the 50-mile boundary recognised by the US Air Force.

At this altitude, the sky looks dark and the curvature of the earth can be seen clearly. With Virgin Galactic, six passengers and two pilots are boarded onto SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, which resembles a private jet.

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