Virgin Galactic to launch new era of space tourism next year

Here at DVICE, most of us are old enough to remember when "space tourism" was a term that people only took seriously in the context of science fiction novels and movies. Starting next year, Virgin Galactic will officially begin its regular sub-orbital service, anointing a half-dozen new astronauts every week.

Last we heard, Virgin Galactic had said it would start launching passengers "once it believes it is safe to do so and has received all regulatory approvals," but Sir Richard Branson announced last week that he personally would be the first commercial passenger to ride SpaceShipTwo into orbit (accompanied by members of his family), and that the inaugural flight would happen sometime next year.

For the first year of operation, Virgin Galactic plans to make just one flight a week, but assuming everything goes well and that the fleet of five spacecraft and five carrier aircraft arrive on schedule, you can expect a minimum of one flight per day by the second year of operation. That's seventy new astronauts every week, each one of whom will (in exchange for the modest sum of $200,000), enjoy three days of training at Spaceport America followed by a flight up to 62 miles and several minutes of weightlessness.

529 people have already paid Virgin in full to get on the list for this experience, which means that the first year of flights are fully booked. It's not too late for you to sign up, though, and with just a modest win down at the track or a life insurance policy on a relative who you're not a fan of, space is finally within reach of commoners like us.

Virgin Galactic, via AP

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