Posted July 29, 2008 by Zak Patten
As White Knight Two approaches an altitude of 50,000 feet, you brace yourself. The aircraft that's carried your rocket this far has done its job and must return to the desert runway far below. Seconds later, you're pinned to your seat as SpaceShipTwo's hybrid rocket sends you hurtling into the unknown darkness. Despite g-force three times that of Earth's gravity, you look into the eyes of your fellow passengers and smile knowingly. Within minutes, you've reached the internationally recognized edge of space, 62 miles above the Earth's surface. You are now officially an astronaut.
If you find this fantasy scenario appealing, and happen to have a spare $200,000, Sir Richard Branson would like to make you a space tourist. Branson, the celebrity billionaire head of the Virgin empire (featuring Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America), yesterday unveiled White Knight Two, the latest addition to Virgin Galactic. Though it's only partially complete and no firm date has been set for the first real trip, this plane promises to make space travel a reality for those who have the means and desire.
When that event does take place, the six passengers and two pilots (presumably there won't be a flight attendant handing out drinks) will spend two and a half hours getting from the ground to space and back again. Unfortunately, there won't be a full orbit of the planet on the first flights Virgin Galactic offers, but it still beats that turbulent Newark-Cleveland flight you took last year, doesn't it?
Richard Branson's plans for the "airline" are characteristically ambitious. He wants to get at least 500 people into space in the first year. This would rake in a tidy $100 million in fares, not to mention equal the number of people who have reached such heights in the entire history of space exploration. To date, 250 people have put at least some money down for their tickets, so he’s halfway there already.
Speaking personally, I don't have the credit card limit for such a pricey trip and I'm not typically the bravest of souls, but I would absolutely jump at the chance to travel into space. Would you? Leave a comment below and let me know.
(Photo: Virgin Galactic)
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