Virgin Galactic and NASA to Develop Space-Plane

National Geographic magazine article on how Virgin Galactic, the space tourism venture of billionaire entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, is the first step toward hypersonic travel between Earth-based cities.

Virgin Galactic’s space flights will accustom passengers to flying at the extreme altitudes likely necessary for hypersonic travel, said Alex Tai, the venture’s chief operating officer.

“The experiential rides that we’re providing with Virgin Galactic are the first rung, or the stepping stone, for us to use space for other activities,” Tai said. “And the first one of those we’d like to look at is point-to-point travel on the planet.”

The venture will explore the possibility of hypersonic travel as part of a memorandum of understanding it signed last month with the U.S. space agency NASA.

“If Virgin’s going to go off and build a high-speed transoceanic passenger service craft of some sort, NASA’s of course very interested,” said Dan Coughlin, NASA’s lead for the Virgin Galactic agreement at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

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