It used to be that the space race was a contest between global superpowers, with the Americans and Soviets competing to be the first to land on the Moon in the 1960s.
Fast forward more than 50 years later, and the latest race in space is instead between some of the world's richest people, with billionaires duking it out to be the first into orbit on a commercial space flight.
Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson was one of six people aboard his own winged rocket ship to have flown into space in New Mexico on Monday morning, Australian time.
Sir Richard was onboard for about one hour, but the flight managed to travel more than 80 kilometres above the ground into space, with passengers able to experience zero gravity for a short amount of time.
It may have been a short flight, but he managed to go into space nine days ahead of when fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos is scheduled to go into orbit on July 20 onboard his own Blue Origin space craft.
While the race by billionaires into space may seem to be purely a battle of egos, those in the industry are hailing the commercial space flights as the next leap forward.
How does it work?
While the flights may be into space, how the rocket ships get there is very different to the Apollo or space shuttle missions of old.
The rocket ship at first is attached underneath an aircraft which flies up to 14,000 metres, before the ship is released and a rocket on board is ignited, sending it up into space.
Director of UNSW Canberra space Professor Russell Boyce said the ship was able to stay in zero gravity for a few minutes at the top of its orbit, before it was able to touch back down safely on Earth.
"The rocket then shuts off and then glides back down, it has wings that can fly at low altitude but when you're at high altitude it folds its wings up and behaves a bit like a shuttlecock, and as it comes back down, it slows down," Professor Boyce said.
"It's a radically different approach to what the public is accustomed to when rockets are launched."
While the flight may mark the beginning of space tourism and commercial space flights, tickets to get onboard aren't cheap.
Tickets are set to cost more than $330,000 on Virgin Galactic, but more than 600 reservations have already been placed.
The flight had been years in the making for Sir Richard, who set up Virgin Galactic in 2004.
"I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars. Now I'm an adult in a spaceship looking down to our beautiful Earth," he said in a video released online.
However, there is debate as to whether the Virgin flight made it into space, which made it to 80 kilometres above the Earth, short of the arbitrary Karaman line, which lies at 100 kilometres, set by international bodies as the demarcation between the atmosphere and space.
Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin said in a tweet that none of their astronauts would "have an asterisk next to their name". NASA does define an astronaut as anyone who has been above 80 kilometres.
What does this mean for space tourism?
Tickets for a flight into space may only be for the super-rich for now, but those in the field have said the flights mark the beginning for a burgeoning space tourism industry.
Virgin Galactic have said it planned to start taking on paying customers from next year. Flights at the moment may be limited to only a handful of minutes in zero gravity, but Australian National University astrophysicist Dr Brad Tucker said flights could soon be cheaper and passengers spend longer in orbit.
"These ideas will continue to evolve over time and you'll see the ideas take hold of space holidays and space hotels," he said.
"It won't be in the next five years, but it will be in the not-too-distant future."
Dr Tucker said private companies leading the field in commercial flights represented a major step in an area that had previously been the domain of government departments and space agencies.
"This is a monumental sign of the times and it's changed how space can be accessed into the future," he said. "In theory, when we fly in planes we don't think about every time the Wright Brothers took off, because planes are part of our lives now, and it will soon be the case with space flight.
"[The space flights] will lead to space travel being more readily available and accessible, and because there's more competition out there, the price will plummet."
While flights may be launching from deserts in the US, Dr Tucker said Australia could also play a role. "This will be a great opportunity for Australia and companies will be looking for more sites," he said.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: