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Model of tourist spaceship unveiled

January 24, 2008|From Reuters

NEW YORK — Entrepreneur Richard Branson on Wednesday unveiled a model of the spaceship he hoped would be the first to take paying passengers into space on a regular basis as soon as next year.

Branson, whose Virgin Galactic is charging $200,000 for a short trip into space, said his SpaceShipTwo would start test flights this year.

"We really do want to have a situation where hundreds of thousands of people who want to experience space travel are able to do so," said Branson at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.

Virgin Galactic, part of Branson's airline, vacation and retail company Virgin Group, now has more than 200 people signed up for the ultimate sightseeing trip, putting up more than $30 million in deposits.

Passengers getting ready for the trip include physicist Stephen Hawking, former soap star Victoria Principal and designer Philippe Starck.

Suborbital spaceflight is the easiest and briefest form of space travel, in which the spacecraft technically reaches space -- about 62 miles above sea level -- but then falls back to Earth without completing a revolution of the planet.

About 100 of Virgin's reserved passengers attended Wednesday's unveiling to get the first glimpse of the spacecraft's design.

"It's like something out of 'Thunderbirds,' " said Trevor Beattie, a British advertising executive, referring to the 1960s TV series. "It's what we as kids in the 1960s thought the future would be like."

The space trips, from a launching pad to be built in New Mexico, should take about 2 1/2 hours, with about five minutes of weightlessness.

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