July 25, 2013
Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson and his family will be the first tourists to blast into sub-orbital space on the maiden voyage of SpaceShipTwo in December.
According to CNN, Branson’s adult children, Holly and Sam, will accompany him on the two-hour voyage, blazing a trail for other space tourists to follow.
"It'll certainly be the most momentous moment of my life and my children's lives," Branson told CNN. "It'll be very difficult to ever cap it. Anyone who has ever been into space says the same thing."
According to the Virgin Galactic website, more than 600 would-be astronauts, including actor Ashton Kutcher, have already signed up for the $250,000 sub-orbital flights, putting down more than $70 million in deposits.
Virgin Galactic executives said the figure was a milestone as it exceeds the existing number of space veterans.
Launched from a carrier vessel called WhiteKnightTwo and expected to reach speeds up to 3 ½ times the speed of sound, the space ship can carry two pilots and six passengers. SpaceShipTwo is currently undergoing testing in the Mojave Desert, where key components of the system were proven in April.
The April test, conducted by teams from Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic, officially marked Virgin Galactic’s entrance into the final phase of vehicle testing prior to commercial service from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
“For the first time, we were able to prove the key components of the system, fully integrated and in flight,” Branson said in a statement. “Today’s supersonic success opens the way for a rapid expansion of the spaceship’s powered flight envelope, with a very realistic goal of full space flight by the year’s end.”
About 45 minutes into the flight, SpaceShipTwo was released from WhiteKnightTwo. Ignition of the rocket motor was triggered, carrying SpaceShipTwo to a maximum altitude of 56,000 feet. During the 16-second engine burn, the spaceship broke the sound barrier, achieving Mach 1.2.
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