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Do you have $200,000 that’s burning a hole in your pocket? Do you want to go where none of your neighbors have gone before? Then you’re in luck as Virgin Galactic, a new “travel company” owned by a partnership between British billionaire Richard Branson and American aerospace engineer Burt Rutan will take you 100 km into space for the ride of you life. Rutan first flew his suborbital space vehicle, Spaceship One in June, 2004, which not only catapulted him to the threshold of space, but made him virtually weightless for several minutes. Upon his return to earth, his success in piloting to first privately owned space contraption mad so much of an impression on Virgin conglomerate mogul Branson that he immediately sought out Rutan to form a partnership with him.
The resulting company, Virgin Galactic, has since flown a number of astronaut wannabes who hail from all over the world. The company recently opened an office in Israel, headed by entrepreneur Eliron Yaron. Though no tickets have actually been sold to Israelis so far, Yaron is confident that several wealthy Israelis will want to be part of the 500 tickets still available for the coming year’s “passenger list”.
The original Space Ship One has now been redesigned and improved in a new model, Space Ship Two, which seats 8 passengers and two crew members. The new model will be able to penetrate 110 km into space, surpassing the so-called gravitational “boundary” of 100 km or 60 miles, enabling passengers to experience complete weightlessness for a much longer period. The vehicle, which begins it’s flight attached to the belly of a specially designed jet aircraft, is more like the original X series experiment aircraft of the early 1950’s than an actual rocket ship. Even so, Space Ship Two will able to take it’s passengers into space at a speed of more the Mach 3 or 1,000 MPH which breaks the sound bearer of 720 MPH..
So far, most of the international passengers who have purchased tickets are between ages 50 and 55 and of the male gender. Only 15% of the purchasers are female. The first commercial pilot who will fly the rocket plane for Galactic Virgin is Alex Tai who is a well renown aircraft test pilot. Branson himself will be one of the first Space Ship Two passengers. To date, Col Ilan Ramon, who perished in the Columbia Space Shuttle mission in February, 2002, is the only Israeli who has flown into space. Those purchasing a ticket will be required to under a three day health physical and training session prior to the actual. Rutan, who flew the first Space Ship One, claims that even persons in their 70’s should be able pass the criteria required for traveling on Space Ship Two. That, and paying $200,000 up-front, of course. There are no “Fly now-pay later” plans on this flight.