Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic cleared for takeoff

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Billionaire Richard Branson’s spaceship company just got the thumbs up. Virgin Galactic said Friday it received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly people to space.

The approval comes just after it successfully completed its first manned space flight in May. Two pilots blasted off from New Mexico and landed the SpaceShipTwo craft, which can hold six passengers. This summer, Virgin Galactic plans to conduct a test flight staffed with a full crew for the first time.

The space race over tourism is heating up as Branson faces competition from rocket startups led by fellow billionaires, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Tesla boss Elon Musks’ SpaceX.

Just two weeks ago, Bezos stole the celestial spotlight by announcing he and his brother would fly on his company’s first crewed space flight next month. A few days later, an unnamed space buff with deep pockets placed a winning bid of $28 million in an auction for a seat with the Bezos brothers on that flight.

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