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Master of Scaremonies
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Branson unveils part of spacecraft, seeks to popularize space travel

Thu Sep 28, 1:55 PM ET

Billionaire adventurer Richard Branson unveiled part of his Virgin Galactic spacecraft, expressing hope that millions will be able to travel into space in coming decades and vowing to do his part to make that a reality.

As he unveiled the spaceship's interior, Branson also told reporters that the technology developed for the vehicle, which is being built in California's Mojave desert, could also be used in airplanes and could eventually allow people to travel between London and Sydney in half an hour.

Virgin Galactic, which aims to offer space travel to the public, expects to offer its maiden voyage in early 2009, after a series of test flights.

Said to be as environmentally friendly as possible, the small spacecraft will transport six passengers and two pilots some 120 kilometers (75 miles) above the Earth for a half-hour voyage in zero gravity.

The craft's white, minimalist interior has seats that recline to allow for a less jolting reentry into Earth's atmosphere and several round windows positioned from floor to ceiling.

Tens of thousands of people have already expressed an interest in the Virgin voyage, with tickets running 200,000 dollars, and 200 have already made a deposit, the company said.

Branson said "200,000 dollars is obviously still too expensive, but we've got lots of pioneers willing to pay."

"Our vision is to successfully build the world's first environmentally benign space launch system and prove once and for all the commercial viability of a safe space launch system that we believe will eventually be capable of taking payload and science into space as well as people," he said.

"We hope millions of people will travel into space."

As part of its goal of making space travel more accessible, Virgin Galactic plans to offer group rates, and wants to launch a reality television show and a lottery that will offer winners spaceflights.

Virgin Atlantic Airways' frequent flier program also allows members to accrue points toward future space travel.

One happy member, who has already accrued the required two million points, was on hand for Thursday's unveiling in New York.

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