Virgin Galactic completes final test flight before launching paying customers to space

Specialist Jamila Gilbert, center, lookd out one of the portal windows Thursday as she experiences weightlessness during a test flight. (Virgin Galactic via AP)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M — Virgin Galactic completed what is expected to be its final test flight Thursday before taking paying customers on brief trips to space, marking what the space tourism company described as a “fantastic achievement” in what has been a long road to commercial operations.

Six of the company’s employees, including two pilots, landed at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico after the short up-and-down flight that included a few minutes of weightlessness. It took about an hour for the mother ship to carry the spaceplane to an altitude of 44,500 feet (13,563 meters), where it was released and fired its rocket motor to make the final push.

It reached an altitude of 54.2 miles (87 kilometers) before gliding back down to the runway.

Jamila Gilbert, who grew up in southern New Mexico and leads the company’s internal communications, was among those on board who were evaluating what it will be like for paying customers.

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