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Virgin Galactic spaceship makes 1st powered flight

  • This photo provided by Virgin Galactic shows Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo under rocket power, its first ever since the program began in 2005. The spacecraft was dropped from its "mothership," WhiteKnightTwo, over Mojave, Calif., on Monday, April 29, 2013. The spaceship, bankrolled by British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, made its first powered flight in a test that moves Virgin Galactic toward its goal of flying into space later this year. While SpaceShipTwo did not break out of the atmosphere during the test flight, it marked a significant milestone for Virgin Galactic, which intends to take passengers on suborbital joyrides. (AP Photo/Virgin Galactic, Mark Greenberg)

MOJAVE — A spaceship bankrolled by British tycoon Sir Richard Branson made its first powered flight Monday in a test that moves Virgin Galactic toward its goal of flying into space later this year.

While SpaceShipTwo did not break out of the atmosphere during the test flight, it marked a significant milestone for Virgin Galactic, which intends to take passengers on suborbital joyrides.

During the early morning flight, SpaceShipTwo, strapped beneath a twin-fuselage jet, took off from an airport runway in the Mojave Desert north of Los Angeles. The jet released SpaceShipTwo, which ignited its engine for 16 seconds, then glided to a safe landing.

Until now, SpaceShipTwo has only performed unpowered glide flights. Several powered flights are planned this summer, culminating with a dash into space targeted toward the end of the year.

SpaceShipTwo is the commercial version of SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 became the first private manned rocket to reach space. Since the historic flight, more than 500 aspiring space tourists have paid $200,000 or plunked down deposits, patiently waiting for a chance to float in weightlessness and view the Earth's curvature from 62 miles up.


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