Back in October, I wrote about space tourism. Recently, two companies have made steps to bring that dream a little closer.

New Mexican Spaceport
At a Sept. 27, 2004, press conference announcing the formation of Virgin Galactic, Sir Richard Branson, the founder of the Virgin suite of companies including Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic, boldly stated, “We’re going to space.” He announced “plans to build — and launch — within three years the first of Virgin’s fleet of Spaceships — the VSS Enterprise. A spaceship designed to carry fare-paying pioneers on a journey to the stars.”

Last month, Virgin Galactic and the state of New Mexico announced their agreement to build a $225 million spaceport near the White Sands Missile Range. New Mexico Economic Development Secretary Rick Homans said construction could begin as early as 2007, depending on environmental and aviations authorities’ approval.

Located about 25 miles south of Truth or Consequences, N.M., 90 percent of the space port will be constructed underground, with just supporting structures and the runway above ground.

Already, 38,000 people from 126 countries have paid a deposit for their seat on future flights into space. 100 of these form a core group of “founders” who paid the initial $200,000 per seat upfront.

According to Stephen Attenborough, the executive in charge of marketing the Virgin Galactic flights, said these founding members were committed to boarding a flight early in the operations. “Many of the others will need to wait until the price comes down,” he said, “and will want to wait for proven reliability and safety.”

Trevor Beattie, one of the people who have already paid for his ticket, is not so much concerned with safety as with being around when the time comes. “My only concern,” he said, “is that the longer they leave the launch, the more likely we all are to be hit by a bus.”

Commercial Spaceship Builder
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, has started a small company called Blue Origin, a company that many believe to be the first private rocket ship complex in North America. According to its website, “Blue Origin is developing vehicles and technologies that, over time, will help enable an enduring human presence in space.”

With initial research efforts focused on reusable liquid propulsion systems, low cost operations, life support, abort systems and human factors, Blue Origin is “currently working to develop a crewed, suborbital launch system that emphasizes safety and low cost of operations.”

Based in the Seattle area, Blue Origin’s 243,000-square-foot complex of office and warehouse space is currently being converted into bays, construction facilities and chemical laboratories. Bezos also plans to build a spaceport of his own neat the West Texas town of Van Horn, according to SixNewThings.com, with the hopes that the first test flights will take place before the end of this year.

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