Virgin Galactic space tourism blasts off in 2013
SpaceShipTwo / Virgin Gallactic
(CBS/AP) - The dream of space tourism is only a year away, according to Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic venture. The company expects to launch the inaugural flight of their SpaceshipTwo in 2013, and reports are it will be a family affair: The billionaire adventurer says he will be joined by his adult children.
The British tycoon behind the Virgin business empire that spans cable television, airlines and space tourism revealed that the three will make a 60-mile (100-kilometer) journey on the SpaceshipTwo (SS2) next year - along with 120 other tourists who have signed on to take the $200,000 two-hour trip where only a select few have gone before.
"Next year Holly and Sam will be joining me for a first voyage into space," the thrill-seeker told a packed conference Wednesday on the third day of the Farnborough Airshow south of London. "Going into space is a hard business. It keeps my mind buzzing."
Virgin says 529 have paid for the right to go to space - one more than the total number of space travelers since Russia's Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in 1961.
The future space tourists got their first glimpse of the SS2, with a replica set up outside the auditorium as the real one gets fixed up in the Mojave Desert, New Mexico, along with a spaceport designed by British architect Lord Foster. The tourists will have to undergo a week of training at the spaceport before taking their flight.
"I wanted to be the first Irishman in space and I'm really looking forward to it," said 70-year-old businessman and author Bill Cullen, who was the first to sign up for the ride in 2004.
Grant Roberts, 36, said his dream of space flight came from his grandfather, who was a pilot for Britain's Royal Air Force and flew on missions over Germany in World War II.
Branson also said a new launch vehicle - LauncherOne - would take small satellites into space at much lower cost than is now possible The Virgin Galactic team said a number of companies were hoping to use LauncherOne, which is expected to begin operations in 2016 and can carry up to 500 pounds (227 kilograms) of weight.
"It will be a critical new tool for the global research community, enabling us all to learn about our home planet more quickly and affordably," he said.
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