Space tourism inches closer to reality in New Mexico




Posted on June 24, 2012 at 10:08 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 26 at 1:44 AM

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico — Virgin Galactic is encouraging passengers to "book their place in space."

The company is moving ahead with plans to offer the first commercial flights from Spaceport America in in southern New Mexico.

These first space tourists will fly in Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two.

A sleek office in Las Cruces is the new home of Virgin Galactic, and its meeting rooms are named after science fiction films. But the facility supports the company's very real effort to offer commercial flights into space.

"This is the main office central area, and at the moment we're only set up for maybe 12 staff to operate here," said Carolyn Wincer, who is part of Virgin Galactic's tourism development department. "But you can see there's a lot of space for us to set up for more."

The staff here and at Spaceport America is expected to grow as the company moves closer to launch date. Company owner Richard Branson celebrates the progress.

"It certainly is a dream," he said. "I dream all the time, and I like to make dreams come true."

More than 500 people have already put down a deposit to share in the dream of space travel. The majority have paid the full ticket price — $200,000.

Virgin Galactic calls those passengers "pioneers."

"You can compare them to the first commercial airline passengers and the first people who bought those huge car phones back in the 80s," Wincer said. "It was those people who made those businesses possible and enabled the technology to develop."

Some children who were outside the new office in Las Cruces can't afford the "pioneer" price tag, but that doesn't mean they would pass up a chance.

"I want to go," one youngster said. "It's going to be so cool!"

But another was less enthusiastic. "Me" I'm going to stay on the ground!"

For now, Virgin Galactic's spaceships are still on the ground. But if everything goes as planned, the company hopes the first one will lift off by the end of next year.