• Virgin Galactic prepares to send travelers where no tourist has gone before

    2014-07-11

    For most people, flying to a travel destination is just one hurdle to get over before the vacation really begins, but to a new generation of travelers, the flight could be the whole trip. Virgin Galactic, a division of Richard Branson's Virgin empire, is taking aim to become the first company to send tourists to space, making it the world's first off-world adventure travel company.

    Delayed launch
    Branson originally predicted that the first commercial space travelers would leave the ground in 2010, CNN reported. Though the deadline was missed, the company still hopes to launch in the near future, possibly by the end of 2014. Virgin Galactic's newest craft, SpaceShipTwo, is expected to be ready by 2015. The ship holds six passengers and, according to reports, will offer them a stunning view from its window-lined cabin. Once it's operational, SpaceShipTwo will start its voyages attached to a special plane called WhiteKnightTwo.

    Into the blue
    The plane will ferry space travelers to 50,000 feet before detaching, at which point SpaceShipTwo will ignite its own rockets. Reaching 2,500 miles per hour - three times the speed of sound - passengers will be pushed back into their seats by the force of gravity. At the peak of the ascent, roughly 60 miles above Earth, the rocket will cut its engine, letting the craft drift at the edge of space. Once they're at cruising altitude, passengers can unbuckle their safety belts and move about the cabin, just like frequent fliers are used to. However, when these travelers move, they'll be floating. For six minutes, passengers aboard SpaceShipTwo will experience weightlessness, hovering through the ship like astronauts on the International Space Station.

    Needless to say, the trip is not for everyone. Even for those with the nerves to handle the harrowing flight, their wallets may not be up to the challenge. Tickets for the history-making flight are currently going for $250,000 each.

    Ground control
    However, for the lucky few who can afford the hefty price tag, the journey has already begun. For an extra fee, some of the prospective passengers were given their first taste of zero-gravity at the Nastar Center in Philadelphia, NBC News reported. Normally used to train pilots, the facility allowed soon-to-be space travelers to use their flight training equipment to prepare for their ride. The visitors were strapped in to the center's centrifuge and accelerated to such speeds that gravity acting on them was just like it would be in space.

    Nastar hosted its first batch of trainee travelers earlier this year. Feedback that they gave will help Virgin Galactic make adjustments to its own flights to make the historic first launch go off as smoothly as possible.

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