The emerging space tourism industry has taken a giant step forward with the first-ever flight of a craft with passengers beyond the atmosphere. British entrepreneur Richard Branson and five members of his Virgin Galactic company made the suborbital trip just nine days ahead of a planned mission by the crew of rival firm Blue Origin led by fellow billionaire and founder Jeff Bezos. Commercial operations are scheduled for later this year and 2022, with hundreds of wealthy travellers already lining up to experience out-of-this-world views and a few minutes of weightlessness. Some scientists are concerned that when the industry takes off full-throttle, the emissions from rockets will have an impact on climate change . But it is also to be hoped that those fortunate enough to make the journey will gain a new appreciation of Earth and its challenges. Branson and his crew flew beyond 100km above sea level for a few minutes, a point that technically took them into space, entitling them to call themselves astronauts. They did not orbit around the Earth as Yuri Gagarin of the then Soviet Union did in 1961, but got to see similar sights; the curvature of the Earth, the blackness of space, the white of ice caps on mountains, the sparkling blue of seas and oceans and the grey and browns of cities, and a world without the borders that are drawn on maps. They also witnessed the thinness of the atmosphere, a fragile, thin wrapping of gases protecting the Earth from the cosmos. Without it, there can be no life, but that fact can only be appreciated from space. More than 600 people have already reserved seats for Virgin Galactic flights; one of those who will travel with Bezos paid US$28 million for the privilege. Passenger fares have not yet been set, but estimates suggest the cost could be at least US$250,000 for a trip that will last about an hour. The first to experience commercial space travel are therefore likely to be some of the world’s wealthiest and most influential people. Seeing the Earth in a different way, its beauty and fragility laid bare beneath them, just as astronauts see it, should be reason to spur them into action to have their companies and corporations and governments do more to tackle the pollutants behind climate change .