Virgin Galactic to launch space tours in 2014

Calif. company XCOR Aerospace also plans to launch program


During the Space Shuttle era, NASA spent billions of dollars to launch astronauts into space. Now, several commercial companies are promising to take you to the edge of space, as soon as next year.

Tuesday on CBS This Morning, Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, said private companies can offer space travel for a fraction of the price compared to the government.

"Ordinary people will be able to have a chance to become astronauts, go into space, and look at the world from a distance," said Branson.

Virgin Galactic is already taking reservations on its website. $200,000 will get you a seat on a 6-passenger spacecraft that will take off and land like a plane in the New Mexico desert. The 2-hour ride aboard SpaceShipTwo will take you the edge of the atmosphere for 5 minutes of weightlessness.

"At that point, they unbuckle, they're allowed to float and take pictures through good sized windows, and they're allowed to float before 5 minutes before gravity starts pulling them back down," said Suzanne Perritt, one of only 45 nationally accredited Virgin Galactic Space Travel Agents.

Perritt, based in Jacksonville, said despite the cost, she's seen much interest in space tourism for people of all incomes. "Not as wealthy as you would think. Obviously they are comfortable, but it's more a dream of being in space. That's the motivating factor that I see," said Perritt.

Virgin Galactic claims to have more than 500 reservations already, including those from movie stars Ashton Kutcher, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie.

Perritt said she has met Branson and plans to tour Spaceport America in New Mexico later this year. She said Virgin Galactic is fully committed to New Mexico and has no plans to build a base in Florida.

California-based XCOR Aerospace, however, plans to launch and land its Lynx space plane at the Kennedy Space Center. The company said testing begins in 2013 with flights planned for 2014. XCOR recently committed to hiring 150 workers at its Brevard County facility. A ride aboard the Lynx is expected to cost half that of SpaceShipTwo – only $95,000.

Branson is betting his life on SpaceShipTwo. He told CBS This Morning, "I'll be going up with my children on the first flight next year."

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