With NASA’s abandonment of the space shuttle program comes the intervention of capitalism in the space industry. Enter Richard Branson, entertainment tycoon and founder of the Virgin Group, a conglomeration of over 400 international companies all under the Virgin name. Branson’s Virgin Galactic appears to be the frontrunner in the space tourism business and already is well on it’s way to being able to take rich tourists into space, for a relatively low price. Virgin Galactic‘s spacecraft, called SpaceShipTwo (built by Scaled Composites), and it’s carrier aircraft White Knight II, have been in testing since 2004 and the first spaceflight is expected within the year. Branson calls these spacecraft “sexy beasts.” Reportedly over 400 paid customers were signed up to go to space, with the price currently at $200,000 with a $20,000 deposit.
The spacecraft will be launched from Spaceport America in rural New Mexico, a project supported by the state and it’s taxpayers to the tune of $209 million. According to a recent article, the state still supports the project despite setbacks and a gubernatorial change.
The spaceport is meant to be everything you would expect from a science-fiction author’s imagination, from the wavy roof and the huge glass walls. Eventually every city will have one of these like they have airports now, and in the distant future you will be able to fly into space off your driveway.