While space tourism isn’t likely to become an actuality in a few years, here’s another major breakthrough. The Virgin Galactic’s VSS Enterprise, one of the first five spaceships built for commercial transport, just completed its solo flight. The test flight was the first time the spacecraft didn’t have to be hoisted to space and brought back down by Eve, its mother ship.

This time around, the VSS Enterprise flew 45,000 feet above the Mohave Desert on its own and landed safely back on earth. What’s more, the flight was manned, and the spaceship glided smoothly for 11 full minutes—a good sign in anyone’s standards considering the niche Virgin Galactic is breaking.

Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, enthusiastically said that the “sky is no longer the limit.”

Perhaps what Branson forgot to include is that a seat in this spaceship costs $200,000. Also, 370 seats already have names on them amount to $50 million sweet dollars in the Virgin Group’s piggy bank. Even if you do have the funds, you’re going to have to wait in line.

According to resources from the company, they’re doing everything they can to pull the ticket costs down. However, commercial access to space isn’t likely to be accessible to average Joes in two or three more years.

This is Earth calling

The progress of landing facilities back home is also looking up. In New Mexico, the Spaceport opened its doors for tours. However, its blastoffs aren’t due in at least a month or so. The runway still needs a few weeks for it to be completed. However, the place will be inaugurated formally on October 22, 2010. That’s certainly sooner than the expected runway completion.

After the inauguration, there’s more waiting to be done. While the pad might be used for tests, actual commercial flights aren’t scheduled to begin until late 2011 or early 2012. While the facilities are ready, there’s also the question of FAA approval. The agency still needs to approve of the spacecrafts and the facilities because any of the passengers can actually fly to space.

So how far along are we with space tourism? It’s definitely a possibility, but with bureaucrats in the government to worry about, we’re bringing it down to 50/50. Let’s hope they make up their minds before the sun gets too close to planet Earth for comfort. What’s the harm in making some sci-fi geek dreams come true, right?

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