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Kiwis fork out over $1.8m for Virgin space flights

Published: 5:51AM Thursday May 23, 2013 Source: ONE News

Kiwi travellers are snapping up the chance to experience a trip of a lifetime, spending more than $1.8 million on booking space travel.

Eight New Zealanders have forked out more than $200,000 each to book a place on the world's first commercial space flights.

Tickets are being sold through House of Travel at a cost of just over $234,000.

In an advertisement for the flights Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson said: "It's very exciting; it makes space travel immediately more accessible for Kiwis, who will now be able to simply contact their local Accredited Space Agent to purchase a Virgin Galactic ticket into space."

Owner of Stephen Parsons House of Travel in Palmerston North, Stephen Parsons, who has visited the operating port of the flights, Spaceport America, New Mexico, twice, and has also visited Virgin Galactic's operations at Mojave airport, said it was "such a privilege to be involved in a service that will change Kiwis' lives forever".

The Director of House of Travel Botany Junction, Katrina Cole, says the Aucklanders are extremely excited for their trip.

"Our current ticket holders are from all walks of life, but what they have in common is an absolute passion for space," she says.

Branson has revealed he hopes to rocket the first manned flight to space from New Mexico's Spaceport America at the end of this year.

"I will be going up on the first flight, which I hope will be about December 25th of this year. So maybe I'll dress up as Father Christmas," he told a radio station in Abu Dhabi.

Virgin Galactic recently completed the first rocket-powered flight of its space vehicle, SpaceShipTwo in Mojave, California.

The test, conducted by teams from Scaled Composites and Virgin Galactic, officially marked the beginning of Virgin Galactic's final phase of vehicle testing prior to commercial service from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The spacecraft has been designed to accommodate six passengers and two pilots.

It's expected to eventually do around five commercial flights a day, each reaching an altitude of over 359,000 feet.

Passengers must go through three days of training, including G-force training and psychological preparation, beforehand.

The trip

Passengers will board the spaceship attached to a purpose-built carrier aircraft, which will take one hour to climb to 50,000 feet where it will be close to the edges of the Earth's atmosphere.

From here the spaceship will be released from the carrier aircraft and climb vertically, reaching the speed of sound in less than 10 seconds and three times the speed of sound in under 30 seconds.

Travelling at around 2,500 miles an hour, the astronauts will be pushed back into their seats by the acceleration G-forces as they head for a maximum altitude of more than 360,000 feet above the Earth's surface.

They will be able to see the curvature of the Earth and for 1,000 miles in any direction, and will experience around four minutes of weightlessness before the spacecraft returns to Earth, passing back through the atmosphere.

The trip into space and back is expected to last around two and a half hours.

Virgin Galactic, a company established by Branson's Virgin Group to undertake the challenge of developing space tourism for everybody, had spent US$400 million (NZ$470m) on the project.