Richard Branson hugs designer Burt Rutan during a test flight of SpaceShipTwo… (Mark Greenberg / TBC )
Virgin Galactic has trained more than 140 "space agents" worldwide to sell tickets for the first commercial space flights that may begin as soon as early next year.
"We have two clients signed up," Bell deSouza of Mansour Travel in Beverly Hills said Wednesday. The agency is one of eight in California authorized to sell the $200,000 ticket to ride.
Monday's successful test flight of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo in Mojave brought the idea of commercial space travel a bit closer to reality. More flight tests are expected by the end of the year and, if all goes well, commercial operations would start in early 2014.
The 31-year-old travel agency was invited to rep the company likely because of its "high-profile, upscale" clientele, DeSouza said. It has one designated travel agent, Carmella Sears, who underwent Virgin Galactic training to be able to explain the experience to customers and who visited the company's Spaceport America site in New Mexico.
The agency promotes the space flight in a way that's different from other trips. "There's no direct mail marketing," DeSouza said. "We pre-select clients who we think would be interested, show them videos and explain it. There's a lot of interest."
Pat O'Neill at Cassis Travel Services in Los Angeles also sells space voyages. "This is a new frontier of travel, and one I never expected to be in when I started in the travel industry more than 20 years ago," she writes via e-mail.
About 540 tickets have been sold so far on flights that take six passengers each, according to a Virgin Galactic spokeswoman.
Richard Branson, head of the Virgin flight empire, his daughter Holly and son Sam will be on board the first flight.
The company wouldn't identify who else is destined for the inaugural trip. Actor Ashton Kutcher was the 500th person to sign up.
Virgin Galactic has a booking page on its website and offers tiered payment options too. Pay the entire $200,000 and you may be among the first 1,000 people to travel to space. Put down $20,000, you will be on a wait list after the first 500 people take off. And $1 million gets you Spaceship Charter status and a private flight for you and five friends.
There are some cool extras that come with buying a ticket too. You will be invited to attend events such as a week on Branson's private island in the Caribbean or at his estate in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.
"Join the greatest club in the world!" Virgin Galactic's website says. "We do an enormous amount as a community of future astronauts."