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Pay Rs 90 lakh and buy a ticket to space

Last updated on: February 14, 2011 09:18 IST

Pay Rs 90 lakh and buy a ticket to space

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Shivani Shinde & Priyanka Joshi in Mumbai

Six Indians are among a list of 500 enthusiasts who have signed up for the first ever commercial space flight for an astronomical $200,000 (about Rs 90 lakh).

The space tourism services by Virgin Galactic will start its operations in 2012.

But what is this space flight all about?

Well, Virgin Galactic will get you started with a couple of days of light preparation, which includes medical tests, safety training and interactive sessions for the space travellers and pilots to get to know each other, followed by a meeting with the billionaire  founder of the company Richard Branson.

The two-hour flight to space and back will take passengers 110 km above the earth's surface.

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Image: Stunning shot of VSS Enterprise.
Photographs: Courtesy, Mark Greenberg/virgingalactic.com
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Stephen Attenborough, the CEO of Virgin Galactic, who will also fly to space in the first year of commercial operations, says, "You are classified as an astronaut on travelling to up to 100 KMs above the earth's surface. We intend to push this a little and turn ordinary citizens into astronauts on this space journey."

The suborbital tourism firm is working to develop flight vehicles with Scaled Composites, a California-based aeronautical firm that won the X Prize to build the first privately funded manned spaceship.

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Image: Stephen Attenborough speaks during a news conference in Moscow.
Photographs: Alexander Natruskin/Reuters
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Pay Rs 90 lakh and buy a ticket to space

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Virgin unveiled the first of its SpaceShipTwo vehicles, christened Enterprise.

The aircraft will set off attached to a mother ship, which will climb to 50,000 feet before detaching.

Then the Enterprise's rocket motors will ignite, accelerating the ship to three times the speed of sound, taking it up over the Earth's atmosphere.

At that point, the engines will shut off, leaving passengers weightless, able to somersault freely, and, most importantly, have a view of the Earth from space.

"That's the point when the switch flicks," says Attenborough. "You get an understanding of the fragility of life and the beauty of the planet."

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Image: Richard Branson with model of SpaceShipTwo.
Photographs: Courtesy, virgingalactic.com
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Pay Rs 90 lakh and buy a ticket to space

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After four or five minutes, gravity will begin to drag the Enterprise back down to the Earth.

At present, 70 per cent on Virgin Galactic's maiden flight to space are male with 50 per cent of the total passengers from the US.

"We have 45 countries who are participating. While we do have a few Indians on the list, we should have more. It's a population that likes to do things first, and there is good money being made here," Attenborough told Business Standard, at the Nasscom Leadership Summit that concluded in Mumbai recently.

The space tourism company is also gunning to scale down the ticket prices and enable a wider set of people to fly to space.

"We certainly see the prices to come down to a level that it becomes equivalent to the cost you would otherwise pay for a big family vacation. I see the price coming down to $50,000."

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Image: VSS Enterprise with wings feathered.
Photographs: Courtesy, Mark Greenberg/virgingalactic
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But is Virgin Galactic really a viable business, or the biggest publicity stunt of the 21st century?

The company, Attenborough claims, has committed $200 million to this project so far, and believes that by the time the company begins to generate cash, it would have invested another $200 million.

"Last year, we got external investment from an Abu Dhabi fund Aabar Investments, which took 30 per cent stake in Virgin Galactic for $280 million. But when it comes to space travel, this is relatively little money as a single shuttle launch can cost about $1 billion."

With each test-flight, Virgin Galactic is making the space flight safer.


Image: The Virgin Galactic SpaceShip2 (VSS Enterprise) (bottom) is released at 46,000 feet (14,020 meters) from the WhiteKnight2 (VMS Eve) mothership (top), over Mojave, California October 10, 2010.
Photographs: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/Reuters
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