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Branson Is 'Pretty Confident' Virgin Galactic Will Fly To Space This Year

First Flights To Space Will Carry Only Test Pilots, Not Paying Passengers

Sir Richard Branson says that Virgin Galactic will be flying astronauts to space by the end of the year, but the people on board will be test pilots, not paying passengers.

CNN Business reports that Branson made the prediction in an interview with reporter Rachel Crane. He said he is "pretty confident" that the milestone can be reached before Christmas.

Branson said that after SpaceShipTwo ... named VSS Unity ... is proven, he will be the first passenger to take a flight to the edge of space. "I'm not allowed up until the [test pilots] have broken it in a few times, first," he said. "I would love to have gone on this very [first] flight, but [pilots] are incredibly brave people."

Unity make a powered test flight in July, reaching an altitude of 32.3 miles above the Earth. To receive astronaut wings from the U.S. Government, the spacecraft and its crew must reach an altitude of 50 miles.

The flights will offer passengers a few minutes of microgravity before returning to Earth.

It is not known when Virgin Galactic will be declared fully operational. Branson had initially predicted that he would be flying paying customers to space by 2007. There are some 600 people who have already paid for trips to space at a cost of $200,000 to $250,000 per seat.

(Image from file)

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