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Virgin Galactic: a flight that’s out of this world?

'One small step for man'... those iconic words were listened to by the world back in 1969 when astronaut Neil Armstrong took his historic first steps on the moon.

Even before then, man had been fascinated with the concept of space travel, with Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first human in outer space. We watch Star Wars avidly, we give real events the Hollywood version in Apollo 13 and we are constantly intrigued and compelled to find out what's really 'out there'.

 Space travel was formerly only the domain of highly trained astronauts, usually from Russia (or the former Soviet Union) or the USA. However, for those of us curious enough and rich enough the concept of visiting space is no longer purely a pipe dream. Businessman Sir Richard Branson has introduced Virgin Galactic, a high concept in his Virgin Empire, which is planning to bring space travel to the (well-off) masses.

The idea has been floating around for some time now but it certainly hasn't gone away. In August 2014, Richard Branson and his children, Holly and Sam, will take to the skies in Virgin Galactic's inaugural flight. Virgin Galactic's terminal is at Spaceport America in New Mexico, and the VCC Enterprise will be launched from there, taking its passengers an impressive 68 miles high into the orbit.

So, if space travel sounds appealing to you, just how much spare cash do you need to become one of the passengers on this exciting adventure? Charges are currently at £156,000 (which equates to $250,000), and already 640 people have signed up for a flight.

Floating around in a space shuttle sounds fun, but there is a good reason why astronauts spend a long time in training and you will not have to undertake the same intensive training. You won't be piloting the shuttle nor will you be travelling as far into space as an astronaut would. However, you will have to undergo a programme of preparation, which will be three days of training and familiarisation.

The company will also be conducting medicals for all those wishing to travel. In addition aerospace training will help you to understand what it will be like in micro-gravity conditions (it won't be zero gravity) and support you in making the most out of your time in this unique, intense and exhilarating environment. You will also need to learn the required emergency procedures.

That's the pre-flight programme. But what can you expect on the actual journey? You will be in your full space gear and securely fastened in your seat. Then prepare for an amazing rush as the craft reaches a staggering 2,500mph, which is three times the speed of sound.

Once you reach the edges of the earth's atmosphere you will enter space, the motor will be switched off and the first thing you will notice is the eerie silence. At this point you can leave your seat and put all your micro-gravity training into practice, floating, somersaulting and savouring the sensation of being almost completely lightweight.
While Virgin Galactic is indisputably for those who can afford such an excursion, it also offers a tempting and unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those with a sense of adventure. With the announcement of his sub-orbital programme back in 2004, Richard Branson sparked a number of headlines, many of them speculating whether his most bold venture yet would ever get off the ground, so to speak.

But it looks increasingly likely that he will once again prove his entrepreneurial credentials and that in 2014 space tourism will start to become a reality for those brave enough to venture to the very edges of the earth.
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