Flights to space ready for tourists of means

Wednesday, January 4th 2012. | Science News

The first flights of the new airlines that will take tourists past the edge of space are poised to take off in 2012, and getting a seat on one is not all that different from booking a trip someplace on Earth. You can sign up on the website of, say, Virgin Galactic, the most prominent of the new space tourism companies, or go to a travel agent and put down a hefty deposit. Soon you will be able to buy travel insurance, just as you can for any other vacation.

Flights to space ready for tourists of meansVirgin Galactic intends to start offering flights just beyond the space barrier on a rocket ship it has built, featuring five minutes of weightlessness during a 21⁄2-hour jaunt. At $200,000 a seat, this will open the final frontier.

“Hopefully by next Christmas, myself, my daughter and my son will be the first people to go up into space,” Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Galactic, said in a videotaped interview in November (with a touch of his signature grandiosity).

At least two other specialty airlines have jumped in as well, taking reservations (and deposits) for future space flights.

Allianz, the big insurer, will introduce an insurance product in 2012, lending space tourism the trappings of the regular travel industry.

“Just to be able to sell space travel as a regular part of your business, really, just how cool is that?” said Lynda Turley Garrett, president of Alpine Travel of Saratoga, Calif., who is one of 58 accredited space agents for Virgin Galactic in the United States.

In five years, she has sold three seats.

By 2017, “it’ll be just like scheduling a flight to LA,” Garrett predicted.

Virgin Galactic is not the only one with paying customers. XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif., has more than 100 reservations for a $95,000 seat on its small space plane, which will have just two seats — one for the pilot and one for the passenger. XCOR could begin flying as soon as 2013.

And Space Adventures Ltd. of Vienna, Va., which has been taking reservations for a while at $110,000 a seat, has signed up more than 200 people. Its partner, Armadillo Aerospace of Heath, Texas, plans to build an automated spacecraft — no pilot — that can take up two people at a time.

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