The White Knight Two will be the launch plane for Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft, which will carry two pilots and six passengers into low orbit. The first manned commercial ventures into space are set to begin as early as next year, although Space Ship Two, as the orbital vehicle is called, has yet to be shown. Both craft are built by Scaled Composites, and Virgin is allowing them ample time to make sure the vehicles are completely safe.
Despite having a nebulous launch date, and other details that have yet to be filled in, there have been plenty of people willing to fork over the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to become the first tourists in space. Reportedly, Virgin Galactic’s early flights are all sold out, and demand is high for their service.
The plane unveiled today, named The Spirit of Steve Fossett in honor of the missing adventurer, is the first in a proposed fleet of 12 launch vehicles. Fossett was good friends with Richard Brnason, the owner of Virgin Galactic. If everything goes according to plan, by 2011 there will be regular flights, originating from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California.
So? Is this the next great adventure? Until now, traveling into space, with a couple of very rare exceptions, has been the domain of highly trained astronauts. There was no avenue to allow the average Joe to go up, that looks like it’ll be changing soon, as long as that average Joe has plenty of cash. Does commercial space flight excite the masses? Personally, I’d love to take one of the flights, but I also thin about all the cool trips I could do down here on good old Planet Earth if I had that same amount of money. One thing is for sure though, it’s going to be exciting to watch this unfold, and see who will pony up the dough to be the first to go up.
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