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Passengers queue for out of this world flights

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Wed Oct 6, 2004 1:45 am
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As the first private manned spacecraft basks in its first flush of triumph, scores of star-gazing earthlings are already stumping up big bucks for out of this world vacations of the future.
A day after rocketship SpaceShipOne on Monday won a 10-million-dollar prize aimed at kickstarting space tourism, there appears to be no shortage of wealthy adventurers keen to be first to blaze a trail into the galaxy.

Around 125 hard-line space junkies have already paid more than 100,000 dollars for tickets for a short trip on the world’s first commercial spaceliners, years before the first passengers will be ushered aboard.

“It may seem like science fiction to some people, but its getting very real,” 35-year-old investment millionaire Nik Halik said as he watched SpaceShipOne blast into space to claim the 10-million-dollar Ansari X Prize.

“I’m an absolute thrill seeker who’s always been obsessed with space. I have books of pictures of rockets that I began collecting when I was four, and now I can’t wait to ride in a real one,” he told AFP.

Halik has paid 105,000 dollars to Virginia-based space travel firm Space Adventures for his trip out of the Earth’s atmosphere on a sub-orbital space flight that the company says could take place as soon as 2007.

At his own expense, he has already undergone basic astronaut training, including zero gravity acclimatisation, at Russia’s Star City space port and at a Russian air force base.

“Whatever the cost, its definitely worth it, this is a new frontier for mankind and I’ve got a chance of being a part of it,” he said.

Like other sub-orbital space passengers, Halik hopes to set off on a journey lasting around 90 minutes, about 15 minutes of which will be on the fringes of space, the almost virgin territory pierced by SpaceShipOne on Monday, winning the X Prize.

The stubby three-seater craft streaked to an altitude of 112 kilometers (nearly 70 miles) over California’s Mojave desert on the second of two space trips in five days, claiming its place as the vanguard of a new generation commercial spaceliners.

The craft’s designer Burt Rutan and even Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) chief Marion Blakey hailed the craft’s success as a historic milestone that marked a new dawn of commercial space travel.

Further distancing space tourism from science fiction, British airline magnate Richard Branson last week announced he plans to launch a passenger service to space by 2007 on his futuristic Virgin Galactic spaceline.

“Two years ago people giggled at the idea of space tourism in the foreseeable future, but we think it will be happening by 2007,” said Space Advenures’ president Eric Anderson.

Space Adventures, the only firm in the world taking paid reservations for sub-orbital passengers, says it is in talks Branson and several other companies on tie ups that would take their wander-lusting passengers to space.

The company is also in “serious discussions” with NASA and the FAA on how to regulate and safely run the nascent space tourism industry, officials said.

While space experts warn that even with the success of SpaceShipOne, tourists should not start packing their space suits just yet, some fans of other-worldly travel have no doubts that their big day is near.

“I have been fascinated with space travel from when I watched ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’ as a child,” said 14-year-old would-be space tourist Adam Smith.

“It will revolutionise travel. We will be able to go to Paris for lunch and the Pyramids for dinner,” said the US schoolboy who has put down a 1,000-dollar deposit on his flight of the future and is working to raise the remaining 101,000 dollars due ahead of his space flight.

Danish-born investment banker and former diplomat Per Wimmer, 36, has also paid up and had been training for his mission in Russia. The success of SpaceShipOne has only served to fuel his passion.

“Some people think I’m crazy and those close to me worry about my safety, but commercial space travel is almost a reality and I’m determined to be the first Dane in space,” he said.

“There is no doubt that its worth all the investment and the risk,” he said.

“This is my biggest passion, my dream. I’ve always liked adventure travel and now I want to go somewhere where I won’t find a Coca-Cola machine.”

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