For anyone with a steady stomach and $200,000 to spend on a trip, tickets for a flight more than 60 miles into space are already available for purchase.
Virgin Galactic -- a sister company of Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic airlines -- was among the companies specializing in "space tourism" that made a presentation at the Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Palo Alto on Monday.
William Pomerantz, Vice President of Special Projects for Virgin Galactic, said his company is already in the process of testing aircraft that can successfully carry up to six civilian passengers more than 50,000 feet into space, and then safely reenter the earth's atmosphere and land back at its New Mexico headquarters about an hour later.
"I promise we will give you much better customer service than the airline you took to get here," Pomerantz told conference-goers this morning.
Nearly 500 people have already purchased tickets, Pomerantz said.
Virgin Galactic is aiming to become the first commercial space travel service, and has already built, launched and landed the aircraft known as WhiteKniteTwo and SpaceShipTwo, that will take passengers to the edge of space and return them safely home.
WhiteKniteTwo is designed to take off from a regular runway and carry SpaceShipTwo to the edge of space, where the spaceship is launched into
earth's suborbital zone.
SpaceShipTwo then continues into space for approximately another 15 miles, then floats gently back to earth.
The entire trip lasts about an hour and includes about three or four minutes of zero gravity, during which the passengers will be free to unbuckle their safety belts and float about the cabin, Pomerantz said.
Though Pomerantz declined to put an exact date on when the first commercial passenger flight would take off, he said Virgin Galactic plans to execute another series of test space flights by the end of this year, and simultaneously train pilots and flight staff.
"Not only do we need to put the vehicles through its paces but the pilots too," he said.
Anyone wanting to book a flight into space can do so online at www.virgingalactic.com/booking.
--Bay City News
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