It’s been a good week for space travel.
Just last night, SpaceX unveiled the Dragon V2 — their very first spacecraft capable for carrying astronauts (as opposed to just cargo) to the stars. They expect to be shuttling astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station by 2017.
That’s great for astronauts and all, with their many years of rigorous training… but what about you — the mere humble would-be explorer of the stars?
Good news! Kind of. Depending on your definition of “mere” and “humble”.
Virgin Galactic — as in, the space travel arm of Richard Branson’s many-tentacled Virgin empire — has signed an agreement with the FAA that’ll eventually allow them to launch commercial passenger spaceflights from US soil.
There are a few catches, though.
Catch 1: they’re not exactly talking about sending people to the moon, here.
Virgin’s spacecraft, the SpaceShip Two, has a max altitude of 68 miles above the earth’s surface. While that’s plenty high enough to say you’ve reached “outer space” (in fact, you’re about 6 miles above the point where we draw that line) and you’ll experience a good 6 minutes of weightlessness (and really, until we can reach other planets, isn’t that what most people are looking for?), you’re still a few hundred miles short of, say, the ISS.
Catch 2, and this one is a biggy: current ticket prices are upwards of $250,000.
But that price will drop eventually..right? Probably? Maybe?
The just-signed deal primarily just locks in a bunch of safety/airspace agreements between the FAA and Virgin for commercial flights launching out of New Mexico. It’s not a green light to start making routine commercial flights just yet — but it’s a big step forward.
Virgin Galactic says they’re still hoping to launch their first commercial flights by the end of the year. Be right back — cashing in the ol’ change jar.