The first humans blasted off to space in 1961. Since then, people have gone to space hundreds of times to explore and run experiments. In the U.S., the space agency NASA has operated these missions. NASA hires just 5-12 astronauts out of thousands of applicants every few years. They typically train for four years before blasting off.
But in recent decades, several wealthy business leaders have built private space programs. They are working with NASA to create new space technology. They are also making plans to take tourists to space for fun.
In 2021, three U.S. companies took big steps toward that goal. In July, two companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, launched rocket-powered crafts carrying civilians to space. The civilians on each mission trained for several days before taking off. These missions traveled above the second layer of Earth’s atmosphere (see Where in the Atmosphere?). After just a few minutes, Earth’s gravity pulled the spacecrafts down to the ground.