What happened

Shares of Virgin Galactic Holdings (SPCE 5.83%) jumped 5.2% as of 11:35 a.m. EDT Monday morning, and it's not hard to figure out why investors are so excited.

Over the weekend, rival space tourism start-up Blue Origin held its live auction for the sale of the very first space tourism passenger ticket on its New Shepard rocket, which is scheduled to launch from Van Horn, Texas, on the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon launch -- July 20, 2021.  

That ticket sold for -- better sit down for this -- $28 million!

Cartoon rocket soaring on a stock chart

Image source: Getty Images.

So what

Now to put that in context, when Dennis Tito became the first private citizen "space tourist," riding a Russian rocket to spend eight days at the International Space Station in 2001, the cost of his trip was reported to be just $20 million.

That's $8 million less than someone (the winning bidder's name has not yet been revealed) just paid to accompany Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, his brother, and one more passenger on a 10-minute "elevator ride" up to the edge of space and back down again.  

Now what

And that's just what we know about the winner.

According to Blue Origin, "nearly 7,600 people registered" to participate in Saturday's auction. Considering early bids had hit $4.8 million by the time registration for the live auction closed, that means there may have been 7,600 potential Blue Origin (or Virgin Galactic) customers out there, each willing to pay nearly $5 million for the chance to go to space.  

All of which suggests that demand for space tourism may be much greater than we thought -- and the market for $250,000 tickets on Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity spaceplane, much bigger.