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How the space tourism industry has fared since Richard Branson's launch


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Three, two, one. Release, release, release.



It has been exactly one year since Richard Branson won the billionaire space race. His Virgin Galactic rocket plane detached from a cargo aircraft and took Branson and his crew on a very cool trip.


RICHARD BRANSON: To all you kids down there, I was once a child with a dream, looking up to the stars. Now I'm an adult in a spaceship.



MARTIN: Branson beat Jeff Bezos by nine days, becoming the first person to ride his own company's vessel into space.

INSKEEP: Or maybe it was near space. Depends on the definition of where space begins.

MICHAEL WALL: I mean, if you get about 50 miles, you're pretty high up. So, like, my own personal opinion is that counts as spaceflight.

INSKEEP: Michael Wall covers the industry for space.com. He says Virgin Galactic has not delivered any civilians to space since then. So Jeff Bezos pulled ahead with his competing operation.

WALL: Blue Origin. They've flown people five times to date, most recently just last month.

MARTIN: And don't forget Elon Musk and SpaceX, not that he would let you.

WALL: But it's a different kind of space tourism. They have actually launched people to Earth orbit, which is a much tougher thing to do. They actually just flew three paying customers to the space station just a couple of months ago.

MARTIN: And they have a contract to do even more of that in the near future.

INSKEEP: Space tourism is in its infancy, and Virgin Galactic says it has at least 800 names on its waiting list.

WALL: We actually know how much they charge. It costs $450,000. We don't know how much Blue Origin charges, and we don't really know how much SpaceX is charging for their orbital trips. They've got a NASA deal to fly NASA astronauts to and from the space station. And that works out to about $55 million per seat.


MARTIN: Just 55 million. A cheaper option is on the horizon, though. There are companies planning to take people into the high atmosphere underneath a giant balloon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.