Out of this world: Naples travel agency offers trips to space

Mark Greenberg
SpaceShipTwo, christened VSS Enterprise, glides toward its landing during a flight in Mojave, Calif.  Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic company will be offering rides into space for $200,000 a person. A local travel agency is authorized to sell tickets for the rides and while none have been sold locally, yet, there’s a waiting list of more than 500 people.

Photo by Photographer:Mark Greenberg, Copyright:2009Mark Greenberg

Mark Greenberg SpaceShipTwo, christened VSS Enterprise, glides toward its landing during a flight in Mojave, Calif. Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic company will be offering rides into space for $200,000 a person. A local travel agency is authorized to sell tickets for the rides and while none have been sold locally, yet, there’s a waiting list of more than 500 people.

Would you take a trip into outer space if you could afford it?

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Mark Greenberg
SpaceShipTwo, christened VSS Enterprise, glides toward its landing during a flight in Mojave, Calif.  Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic company will be offering rides into space for $200,000 a person. A local travel agency is authorized to sell tickets for the rides and while none have been sold locally, yet, there’s a waiting list of more than 500 people.

Photo by Photographer:Mark Greenberg

Mark Greenberg SpaceShipTwo, christened VSS Enterprise, glides toward its landing during a flight in Mojave, Calif. Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic company will be offering rides into space for $200,000 a person. A local travel agency is authorized to sell tickets for the rides and while none have been sold locally, yet, there’s a waiting list of more than 500 people.

Photo by Mark Chivers. 
 Group photo of the Future Astronauts and Sir Richard Branson outside SpaceShipTwo. Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic company will be offering rides into space for $200,000 a person.  A local travel agency is authorized to sell tickets for the rides and while none have been sold locally, yet, there's a waiting list of more than 500 people.

Mark Chivers

Photo by Mark Chivers. Group photo of the Future Astronauts and Sir Richard Branson outside SpaceShipTwo. Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Galactic company will be offering rides into space for $200,000 a person. A local travel agency is authorized to sell tickets for the rides and while none have been sold locally, yet, there's a waiting list of more than 500 people.

A Naples travel agency is sending tourists on an out of this world trip with a hefty price tag.

For $200,000 per person and a $20,000 reservation fee, Betty Maclean Travel, Inc., will put you on a waiting list for a 90-minute voyage into outer space.

“It’s a great product we can sell,” said Cassie McMillion, a luxury travel advisor with the agency. “If you’re talking about traveling the world, why not go out of the world?”

Last week, Virgin Galactic, which was founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, successfully launched SpaceShipTwo more than 50,000 feet into the air, achieving supersonic flight.

The test launch brings the company’s years-long endeavor toward commercial space travel closer to reality for the more than 500 wannabe astronauts already signed up for the intergalactic tour.

Flights could begin as early as next year.

“I would fly on the first flight if I could,” said Lance Erickson, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach.

Erickson heads the university’s new Commercial Space Operations program, which will examine the likes of SpaceShipTwo and its attempts to make space travel possible for the average person.

“Everyone has been feeling left out, and me included, so there has been a lot of interest in doing something,” Erickson said.

The program will also study the shift from government-sponsored space travel and research to that done by private sector groups, including Branson.

As funding for space exploration in the United States becomes limited, Erickson said, private sector groups have looked to fill and capitalize on the void.

Contests have popped up, too.

SpaceShipTwo’s predecessor SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X PRIZE for $10 million back in 2004 when its creator, Burt Rutan, sent it into flight twice in two weeks. Branson and Rutan teamed up for SpaceShipTwo.

NASA and Ansari X PRIZE continue to hold competitions to inspire innovation in space exploration, Erickson said.

“It really gets people excited that they do have the ability to participate in space and they don’t have to be astronauts,” he said.

Betty Maclean is one of only a handful of agencies throughout the world selling tickets, though no Neapolitans have purchased a seat yet.

“We need our first Naples astronaut,” McMillion said.

The proposed spacecraft will launch two pilots and six passengers 60 miles above earth for four minutes of weightlessness. The craft moves at 2,600 mph — that’s four times the speed of sound — and the return flight allows for a glimpse of the earth’s curve against the blackness of space.

To qualify, passengers must meet certain health and physical requirements. Maclean will refer passengers to their own doctors for clearance, much like they do for travellers heading to foreign countries where vaccines are required.

Once the flights begin, space tourists will go through two days of training and a test flight at Virgin Galactic’s headquarters in New Mexico.

McMillion said the only vacations similar in price to a ticket with Virgin Galactic are month-long private jet tours around the world, which go for as much as $80,000.

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