What's the Latest Development?

Virgin Galactic's space tourism plane broke the sound barrier this week en route to the edge of outer space. It was an important day for the company, which has been working for years in hopes of carrying tourists to the heavensan event it hopes will happen by the end of the year. Richard Branson, the company's owner, said that everything went 100-percent according to plan, with SpaceShipTwo's hybrid rocket motor blasting away on a 16-second burn on its first-ever in-flight test. "The pilots said it was as smooth as anything," he said. Another engine is waiting to be tested and should be fitted to the craft within weeks. 

What's the Big Idea?

The day marked the first time a commercial plane broke the sound barrier since the supersonic Concorde was retired in 2003. Soon, Virgin's craft will be travelling faster than the Concorde and could make way for a host of new commercial applications, including a booster for satellite launches, using its revolutionary technology. "That can make a dramatic difference on everything from aviation, shipping, telecommunications, Internet and Wi-Fi access," Branson said. And commercial transport to and from space may provide the impetus for commercial hotels to be built in low orbit. 

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