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Friday, Sept. 12, 2008

Virgin Galactic visits to book space tourists


Staff writer

Going around the world is passe. Nowadays the fashionable traveler aims a little higher — for outer space.

News photo
Out of this world: Virgin Galactic's spacecraft is shown in a company illustration, while commercial director Stephen Attenborough holds a news conference in Tokyo on Thursday. TAKAHIRO FUKADA PHOTO
News photo

Virgin Galactic LLC., seeking to become the world's first commercial space carrier, held a news conference Thursday in Tokyo to get Japanese to sign up for its planned suborbital tourism program.

The company, a part of Britain's Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., could launch its first commercial flight from the United States as early as 2010, provided it is fully satisfied with the spacecraft's safety after a series of test flights, officials said.

"If you read the accounts of astronauts (over) the past 45 years, almost all of them come back with a real impression of the vulnerability and the beauty of the Earth and the need to protect it, and the common cause of humanity," said Stephen Attenborough, Virgin Galactic commercial director.

"So, I think that's the message to the first passengers," he said.

The mother ship will take off from a runway, and the spaceship will detach at an altitude of around 15 km.

With its rocket engine, the spacecraft will exceed the speed of sound in 10 seconds and streak through the stratosphere to 110 km above the Earth's surface — space.

After the engine is switched off, passengers will be able to take off their seat belts and experience about four minutes of zero gravity while being treated to panoramic views of the planet, according to Virgin Galactic.

The spacecraft will land like a conventional airplane to complete the two-hour journey.

Virgin Galactic is looking to charge $200,000 (about ¥21.5 million) per person, including the cost of a three-day training program.

The company said it already has 10 Japanese reservations. One passenger will be Kozo Hiramatsu, the former president of Internet firm Livedoor Holdings Co.

From the first flight through the next 10 years, Virgin Galactic is hoping to carry around 50,000 passengers into space and possibly lower the fare to $50,000.



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