Billionaire Branson opens world’s first space tourist spaceport

Space: to Gene Roddenberry, it may have been the “final frontier” but now it’s the latest tourist destination for those with a sense of adventure — and a lot of cash. This week, billionaire Richard Branson opened his new $209 million space terminal in New Mexico, reports an article in the UK Daily Mail.

While the desert certainly looks the part of a futuristic port, the building — christened with a bottle of champagne after Branson rappelled to the site — is just the first step. It will be home to Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft, mission control and a preparation area for travellers. Governor Susana Martinez and astronaut Buzz Aldrin were onsite for the dedication

However, flights won’t begin until the end of next year. And if you think a trip to Europe is too pricy, the $200,000+ price tag for flights may have you choking on your morning coffee. Each ship will carry two pilots and six passengers, and climb to a height of 50,000 feet before the rockets kick in. The ship accelerates at 3000 miles per hour — yes, that’s about four times faster than the speed of sound — and crosses what is known as the Karman Line (the outer limit of Earth’s atmosphere). In space, passengers will enjoy six minutes of weightlessness along their sub-orbital journey.

While the whole trip will take about 3.5 hours, would-be passengers are expected to complete three days of the ‘Pre-Flight Experience Program’ at the site in New Mexico. Travellers must be mentally and physically able to travel into space. (The $20,000 deposit on the flight is apparently refundable.)

Currently, organizers plan to offer flights once a week when things get going, but two flights per day is the end goal. Over 450 people have already bought tickets so far.

While going into space would certainly net some fantastic bragging rights, the cost of the flight — not to mention the rest of the trip — is a little too much for this writer. That cash may take people into space, but I’d wager for most of us it would go a lot farther in retirement savings.

At any rate, it should be interesting to see how the space tourism trend develops. Will future generations take a getaway to the moon? Will Mars eventually be on the itinerary? How about cruise ships that tour the galaxy, not the ocean? Perhaps these ideas may not be as far-fetched as they sound.

Would you go into space, or is this trend just the latest must-do for the rich? Have a look at the full story on the UK Daily Mail and tell us what you think.

Photo © Ali Ender Birer