After the latest test flight by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic successfully rocketed to the edge of space and back, Sir Richard Branson has become firm favourite to reach the stars first in the commercial space race.
The test flight took off from the Mojave Air & Space Port in California, taking two passengers into the upper boundaries of Earth's atmosphere. Branson has said he intends to be on the first commercial flight.
Virgin Galactic has almost 700 people who have paid as much as $250,000 for its suborbital joyrides - more than the 560 or so people who have ever been to space.
Virgin Galactic first promised sub-orbital spaceflight trips for tourists back in 2008, claiming that the first trips would be happening "within 18 months".
Virgin Galactic's SpaceshipTwo (right) launches for a suborbital test flight in Mojave, California.
According to the private company, the spaceflight, which was witnessed by a large crowd of staff and their families, as well as special guests and media, saw a 60 second planned rocket motor burn which propelled VSS Unity to nearly three times the speed of sound and to an apogee of 51.4 miles (82.7 km).
To accommodate more passengers, Virgin Galactic is building two more spaceships.
After the rocket successfully returned to Earth, Richard Branson told Sky News: "After 14 hard years, to have taken Virgin Galactic into space has been a momentous, historic occasion".
At the start of the test flight, a special jet carrying the Virgin Space Ship Unity flew to an altitude near 43,000 feet before releasing the craft. It was an indescribable feeling: "joy, relief, exhilaration and anticipation for what is yet to come".
"Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space".
"We shall now push on with the rest of the part of our flight test programme that will start to see the rocket motor burn for longer, and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving a large number of private astronauts an event which provides a fresh planetary perspective to your relationship with the planet earth sufficient reason for the comsos".
"The whole team here - their perseverance - whether it's the test pilots who are incredibly fearless people, who are testing things that can't be tested on the ground that you can only find out in flight, right through to the massive team that have created a spaceship that can now - once it's finished the test programme - start to go safely into space for myself and thousands of other people like me".
Virgin Galactic's spacecraft Unity was piloted by two veteran pilots: Mark "Forger" Stucky and Rick "CJ" Sturckow. "We extend our congratulations and thanks to each and every one of them".
Another US rocket company, Blue Origin, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is also working to send tourists to space, but using a small rocket to get there.