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Richard Branson's Plans In America And Space In The Age Of Expensive Oil

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LOS ANGELES (Fortune) -- So here we were at 6:20 Monday morning at Los Angeles International Airport. Despite the hour, a disc jockey played pulsing club music, a soundtrack that soon continued onboard a Virgin America Airbus with "My Other Ride is a Spaceship" emblazoned behind its nose. A 20-minute flight later, the jet landed in Mojave, Calif., where tycoon Richard Branson awaited.

He was there to roll out the prototype for Virgin Galactic, which plans to be the pioneer in "space tourism" by ferrying well-heeled adventurers into space for joyrides at $200,000 a pop. The scene was vintage Branson, over-the-top and right out of a modern-day sequel to the Howard Hughes flick, The Aviator: The curtain drops, the hangar doors open, and here's RB giving the thumbs up from one of the funky-looking craft's two cockpits.

It's awfully hard to say at this point whether Branson, the cofounder of the Virgin Group, can get his spaceship off the ground. The more pressing question now is whether Virgin America can possibly stay aloft.

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Read about how Richard Branson is still actually serious about Virgin Galactic (and even look at pictures)!