This May 29, 2018 photo provided by Virgin Galactic shows the VSS Unity craft during a supersonic flight test. (Virgin Galactic via AP)
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A Virgin Galactic rocket plane reached space Thursday and returned safely to the California desert, capping off years of difficult testing to become the first U.S. commercial human flight to reach space since America's shuttle program ended in 2011 . The test flight foreshadows a new era of civilian space travel that could kick off as soon as 2019, with British billionaire Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic battling other billionaire-backed ventures, like Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, to be the first to offer suborbital flights to fare-paying tourists.Virgin's twin-fuselage carrier airplane holding the SpaceShipTwo passenger spacecraft took off soon after 7 a.m. local time from the Mojave Air and Space Port, about 145 kilometers north of Los Angeles.Thursday's test flight had two pilots on board, four NASA research payloads along with a mannequin named Annie as a stand-in passenger.The carrier airplane hauled the SpaceShipTwo passenger rocket plane to an altitude of about 13.7 kms and released it.
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