Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo rocketed up to 71,000 feet in a test flight on Friday. That's nothing. Not even space. -- Yeah, that's true. But getting to 71,000 feet in a test flight of the X-15 rocket plane some 50+ years ago would've been similarly dangerous and adventurous.
But the big flights are only going up to 325,000 feet. Big deal. -- Well, hopefully it's 328,000 feet, which according to my calculator is 100,000 meters. Or 100 km. Or 61.9 miles. The definition of space. And for the record, the X-15 didn't make it to Space either, or at least not by modern standards. The USAF awarded astronaut wings at 50 miles, or 264,000 feet, or 80.45 km, for a time. The X-15 official record was 314,688 feet in July 1962. Or not quite the modern definition of space. Unofficially, in 1963 X-15 Flight 90 went 106.01 km and Flight 91 hit 107.96 km. These were major milestone flights, not so ho-hum at all.
Anyway, the passengers are only gonna get four minutes of zero-gee on the commercial flights. -- Yeah and that's longer and higher than you're going to get on a Vomit Comet style parabolic flight.
And about that last point. They've got passengers! Something over 600 deposits on the quarter million dollar round-trip (grin) fare. Including Stephen Hawking (!).
Complain if you like that it isn't big enough or long enough. Or that Richard Branson's stunts and NBC's sensationalism are over the top. But I think that once SpaceShipTwo and her four to five cousins start flying, that it might just create a new attitude towards space travel.
And that bodes well for the future.
While I will probably not make it to space, I think in my lifetime we'll have orbital vacations and probably commercial circumlunar flights to see the far side of the Moon...