Virgin Galactic's Spaceport, designed by Norman Foster. The world's first commercial spaceport in New Mexico, USA. Image Source: Virgin Galactic.
At the end of March, BBC's Richard Scott was the first journalist allowed onto Virgin Galactic's commercial spaceship, the first such craft designed to take tourists up into orbit. Test pilot Peter Siebold said that test flights of the spaceship have been "exhilarating." He confirmed that the spaceship takes getting used to and is unwieldy. Scott suggested it was a bit like a "flying brick."
Design of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo compared to its earlier successful test vehicle, SpaceShipOne. Image Source: Virgin Galactic.
See Scott's exclusive tour of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo hangar and the ship itself, below. SpaceShipOne, the craft's predecessor, was an air-launched sub-orbital spaceplane that successfully conducted the world's first manned private spaceflight on 29 September 2004. The hangar and launch services centre, Spaceport America, promises to bring some commercial glitz to spaceflight; previously, tourists had to make do with the bleak surroundings of Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Spaceport America will be home to five SpaceShipTwo models, which will fly up to heights of 360,000 feet. The craft accelerates in less than a minute to 2,500 miles per hour. Flights for tourists, which are expected to start in 2013, will last roughly 12 minutes each, and cost £125,000, or USD $200,000.
Scott's tour inside SpaceShipTwo. Video Source: Youtube.
Video Source: Youtube.Branson plans to make space tourism cheap enough to be accessible and competitive. However, the Russians claim in response that they offer a 'completely different experience.' So far with their help, the Virginia-based space tourism company, Space Adventures, has taken several space tourists up to the ISS. In April 2001, Space Adventures took Dennis Tito, the first space tourist, on a self-funded trip to the ISS. He spent almost eight days in space at a reported ticket price of some USD $20 million. Current ticket prices range around USD $30-$50 million per flight. But space tourism flights to the ISS are stalled due to the American retirement of Space Shuttle missions (see a report on that here).
Dennis Tito's 2001 departure to space from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Video Source: Youtube.
According to Wiki, these are the numbers of all people who have entered space, as of one year ago:
There is a list of space travelers by nationality here.As of April 5, 2010, a total of 517 humans from 38 countries have gone into space according to the FAI guideline, (523 people have qualified when including the Department of Defense classification). Of those totals, 3 people completed only a sub-orbital flight, 514 people reached Earth orbit, 24 traveled beyond low Earth orbit and 12 walked on the Moon. Space travelers have spent over 29,000 person-days (or a cumulative total of over 77 years) in space including over 100 person-days of spacewalks.
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