Vacations in space.
SpaceShipOne, a sleek combination of rocket and glider, may have brought space enthusiasts one small step closer to their dream vacation. On October 4, the ship shot into space for a third time, winning the $10 million Ansari X Prize--a competition to encourage commercial spaceflight. And Sir Richard Branson, the British entrepreneur who heads the Virgin Group of companies, has ordered five larger versions of SpaceShipOne for his new venture: Virgin Galactic. If all goes according to Branson's plan, passengers will begin traveling into space aboard Virgin Galactic ships by 2007--for about $190,000 per ticket. SpaceShipOne was financed by Paul G. Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft. The spacecraft was carried to 50,000 feet by a carrier aircraft, or "mothership," called White Knight before being released and firing its rockets to reach a maximum altitude of about 368,000 feet--just beyond the border of space. On re-entering Earth's atmosphere, the craft assumed a "shuttlecock" configuration to drift downward without overheating. It then shifted back into a conventional aircraft shape for a runway landing. The risks of a "space vacation" would be high, and passengers would need to undergo several days of training. But Branson is optimistic: "If it is a success, we want to move into orbital flights and then, possibly, even get a hotel up there."