A rendering of Spaceship Two
Earlier this month, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson and SpaceShipOne designer Burt Ratan revealed the new SpaceShipTwo (SS2), the world’s first manned commercial spaceship, in California’s Mojave Desert. Virgin Galactic, the commercial space arm of Virgin, hopes to launch passengers into space as early as 2011. The ship, which seats six passengers and two pilots, will allow passengers to experience four minutes of weightlessness in space for an approximated $200,000 per person.
Also on hand for SS2’s debut were Virtuoso CEO and “founder” passenger Matthew D. Upchurch, and agent members of Virtuoso’s Accredited Space Agent (ASA) program. Upchurch and other ASAs have undergone both physical and educational training to prepare for selling the new flights, which are planned to operate out of New Mexico.
At a press conference held before the official unveiling, Upchurch said, “The fact that Virgin Galactic chose to work with travel agents has actually elevated our profession. I want to thank them for having our profession involved.”
Of his own upcoming space flight, he said, “Until you’ve experienced 15 to 20 seconds of weightlessness, you can’t appreciate what four minutes of it would be like.”
The entire Virgin Galactic flight process, according to Virgin Galactic head of astronaut sales, Carolyn Wincer, is approximately three days, including training. Beginning next year, Virgin Galactic will commence a comprehensive test flight program for the SS2.