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Sir Richard Branson already affirmed to TPG that he plans on heading to space himself in 2019. (Which, if you haven’t heard the two chat all things travel on the our Talking Points podcast, now’s a great time to listen!) What happens prior to Virgin Galactic’s founder heading to the next frontier? Other people heading to the next frontier.

Branson recently asserted that he was “pretty confident” that his space tourism outfit would send its first humans into space before the end of 2018. The first few trips via the recently rebuilt SpaceShipTwo (renamed VSS Unity) will be flown by pilots who have trained specifically for these missions. Those, according to Branson, are “the dangerous ones.” Indeed, the road to now has been a challenging one, as SpaceShipTwo killed co-pilot Michael Alsbury in October 2014.

After a handful of those go well, it’ll be Branson’s turn to head up, after which 750 waitlisted civilians will have their day in (or should we say near) the sun. Per CNN Business, the space plane will reach 2,300 miles per hour “in about eight seconds,” with a goal to take humans 50 miles above Earth — that’s enough to “earn passengers astronaut wings from the US government.”

If this all pans out, Virgin Galactic will beat Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX to the punch, but Branson’s quick to point out this isn’t a race to a finish line. “Safety’s all that matters if you’re putting people into space. So none of us will race to be the first.”

Sir Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic Team (Photo courtesy of Virgin Galactic)
Sir Richard Branson with Virgin Galactic Team (Photo courtesy of Virgin Galactic).

It’s worth pointing out that Branson has been teasing the world with launch dates for what feels like eons. With 750 people on a waiting list to shell out nearly a quarter of a million dollars for a brief trip to space, the company has frozen additional sign-ups until flights commence. The founder initially hoped that these commercial flights to space would start more than a decade ago, but as he rightly asserts: “Space is difficult. Rocket science is rocket science.”

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