Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo reaches space for the first time

It's a major milestone for a program affected by tragedy.

Virgin Galactic has come a long way since its tragic 2014 crash. The company's SpaceShipTwo has reached space after months of testing, flying to an altitude of 271,268 feet before returning to Earth. The stay was brief (SST fired its rocket for all of a minute), but it was enough to both verify the spacecraft as well as conduct four NASA-backed scientific experiments that studied the effects of microgravity and devices that could handle life support and counteract vibration.

The remaining scope of the program depends on how much Virgin Galactic accomplished during this flight. Its current goal is to simulate the weight that would come with ferrying passengers into space, and the experiments "partly" meet that objective. You may have to wait a while for definitive answers.

Actual passenger flights aren't likely to happen for some time. Virgin stressed that it wanted to finish its tests "safely," not just quickly. The successful visit to space makes that more a question of when than if, though, and suggests that Richard Branson might be vaguely realistic when he talks about hopping aboard his own flight within months.