A commercial space tourism industry could be on the horizon, as Virgin Atlantic has unveiled the first commercial passenger spaceship, a sleek, minivan-sized black and white vessel with wings, Reuters reports. At the launch in California’s Mojave Desert, Virgin Atlantic Airways founder Richard Branson said the ship, called SpaceShipTwo, could bring tourists into zero gravity within the next two years; “you become an astronaut,” he said. With a $450 million budget, the project will see six commercial spaceships built that can take passengers on a two-and-a-half hour trip, high enough to achieve about five minutes of weightlessness, about 65 miles above Earth. About 300 people have already put down deposits for a trip, which costs $200,000 and includes three days of training. The ship could also bring scientists and experiments into space. On display at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, SpaceShipOne, which served as a prototype, made three suborbital flights. A 10-month atmospheric test flight program begins today, followed by extensive test flights before passenger travel can begin in 2011 or 2012.
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