Space tourism is closer to reality now that Virgin Galactic was finally issued permits to test its rocket-powered space plane. As Space News' Brian Berger reports, The company announced yesterday that the FAA has given approval for them to begin "the rocket-powered phase of test flight" on SpaceShipTwo, the six-seat space craft designed by Scaled Composites that will someday ferry rich adventurers into low-orbit space flight. So far, they've only been allowed regular air flight and gliding tests, but a full workout of their experimental rocket engines should progress before the end of the year.
With SpaceX and their Dragon capsule (that fell safely back to Earth today) looking to becoming NASA's moving vans and Virgin Galactic becoming its tour guide, we are finally starting to see the beginnings of a new era, when outer space will become the domain of ambitious for-profit companies. Soon, you'll no longer need NASA's permission to reach for the stars, but you will need a fat wallet and a lot of faith. That's good news if you're a fan of free enterprise and can afford the $200,000 tickets for a ride beyond the wild blue yonder, but potentially scary if you don't trust corporations to behave themselves in zero gravity.