Commercial Spaceship for Tourists To Be Unveiled

After five years of secret construction, the cloak is coming off a privately funded spacecraft designed to fly well-heeled tourists into space.

The long-awaited glimpse of SpaceShipTwo, slated for rollout Monday in the Mojave Desert, could not come sooner for the scores of wannabe astronauts who have forked over part of their disposable income for the chance to float in zero gravity.

"We've all been patiently waiting to see exactly what the vehicle is going to look like," said Peter Cheney, a 63-year-old potential space tourist from Seattle who was among the first to sign up for suborbital space rides marketed by Virgin Galactic. "It would be nice to see it in the flesh."

Virgin Galactic spokeswoman Jackie McQuillan promised a "theatrical unveil" followed by a cocktail party for paying passengers and other VIPs, The Associated Press reports.

According to Bloomberg, U.K. billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Ltd. venture is riding out the recession, with would-be astronauts paying $42 million to board the spaceship, its chief executive officer said.

Virgin Galactic added $4 million in deposits in the past nine months, CEO Will Whitehorn said in an interview. Fees range from a minimum $20,000 to the full $200,000 fare, with singer Sarah Brightman, physicist Stephen Hawking and X-Men director Bryan Singer among more than 300 clients who have signed up. Virgin Galactic aims to sell at least 700 tickets by the first commercial launch.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger will unveil Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo model at a test site in the Mojave Desert today, with the first commercial flight scheduled to take place from Spaceport America, New Mexico, in the next couple of years. A handful of lost contracts included one from a client who invested money through swindler Bernard Madoff, Whitehorn said.

Commercial flights will take place out of a spaceport in New Mexico. Flights will last about two and a half hours, including just five minutes or so of weightlessness.

SpaceShipTwo will piggy-back on the mothership and be released at 50,000 feet, from where it will climb to about 65 miles - high enough to clearly see the curve of the Earth. It will then return to the atmosphere and glide to a landing like a plane, TG Daily informs.

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