Last Thursday, Sir Richard Branson updated shareholders in Virgin Group on “Virgin Galactic”, the company that has taken $200,000 deposits from over 200 people for seats on the first commercial near-orbit flight. However, his announcement indicated that the first flight would be reserved for his family (an a few friends and some journalists, too, no doubt), and that it is expected to happend within about 18 months.

In addition to these tourist flights, Virgin Galactic will also put satellites into space, train NASA crews and is investigating orbital hotels and tours of the moon. Anyone who says this won’t happen clearly has never heard of Richard Branson (or the Wright Brothers for that matter)! A few people alive today are old enough to remember when cars were considered a luxury for the truly rich and famous. How long will it be before the middle class can afford space tourism? Probably in my lifetime, I would have thought.

The “mother ship” that will launch the actual space flights: VMS Eve (see photo), named after Sir Richard’s mum, got its debut in Oshkosh, Wisc., this past July. And SpaceShipTwo, the suborbital plane for space tourism, will be unveiled on December 7, Branson says. He added: “What started off as a dream to send people just for the excitement of a voyage to look back and marvel at Earth has turned into a business.”

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