This is a representational image. Walter Geiersperger/Gettyimages

On Thursday, Virgin Galactic successfully conducted its first commercial flight, taking six people to the edge of space.

The space tourism venture was founded by British billionaire Richard Branson two decades ago.

The journey began at approximately 8:30 am (1430 GMT) when the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, took off from Spaceport America in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

The rocket-powered space plane, VSS Unity, was attached to VMS Eve during the initial ascent.

Upon reaching an altitude of nearly 13 km (40,000 ft), VMS Eve released VSS Unity, which ignited its rocket engine for approximately 60 seconds.

The space plane then embarked on a vertical climb, reaching an altitude of around 85 km (53 mi) above sea level.

Defining the boundary between the atmosphere and space has been subject to different interpretations, with varying definitions proposed, La Prensa Latina reported.

According to the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, space is officially recognized to begin at an altitude of 100 km (62 mi), while the United States government defines the boundary at 80 km (50 mi).

During the flight, the six occupants experienced several minutes of weightlessness before the VSS Unity initiated its descent. The spaceplane successfully made a runway landing at the spaceport, concluding the suborbital mission approximately 90 minutes after its commencement.

The flight was piloted by two Virgin Galactic employees: former US Air Force test pilot Mike Masucci and Italian Air Force veteran Nicole Pecile.

Accompanying them was Virgin Galactic astronaut instructor Colin Bennett, who had previously joined Richard Branson on the Unity's mission in 2021.

The remaining crew members consisted of two serving Italian Air Force officers, Col. Walter Villadei and Lt. Col. Angelo Landolfi, the latter being a trained crew surgeon for Russian cosmonauts, as well as Pantaleone Carlucci, an engineer from Italy's National Research Council.

Although Virgin Galactic has a tourism focus, the primary emphasis of the inaugural commercial flight was on research.

The Italian crew conducted 13 experiments during the flight, including measurements of material responses in a microgravity environment.

In 2019, the Italian government entered into a contract with Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic, under Richard Branson's leadership, began selling tickets for space flights over a decade ago. Approximately 800 individuals interested in space travel have purchased tickets, ranging in price from $250,000 to $450,000, to reserve seats on the VSS Unity.

Meanwhile, SpaceX, led by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, has successfully transported paying passengers to orbit and to the International Space Station using its Crew Dragon spacecraft, establishing itself as a rival in the commercial spaceflight industry.

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