Bon Voyage! All-civilian spacecraft crew ready to take off into outer space

Washington: Several hundreds of people have already booked their tickets and begun training for a spectacular voyage: a few minutes, or perhaps days, in the weightlessness of space. The mainly wealthy first-time space travellers are getting ready to take part in one of several private missions which are preparing to launch.

The era of space tourism is on the horizon 60 years after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. Two companies, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin, are building spacecraft capable of sending private clients on suborbital flights to the edge of space for several minutes.

Glenn King is the director of spaceflight training at the National Aerospace Training and Research Centre, Pennsylvania. Nearly 400 future Virgin Galactic passengers trained for outer space voyage. "The oldest person I trained was 88 years old," King said. The training program lasts two days -- a morning of classroom instruction and tests in a centrifuge.

King said the pass rate for the training course has been "99.9 percent."

The single biggest barrier to "spaceflight for all" remains the price tag. Some 600 people have booked flights on Virgin Galactic, the company owned by British billionaire Richard Branson, and thousands more are on a waiting list. The cost per flight? approximately $200,000 to $250,000.

Virgin Galactic hopes to take its first private astronaut on a suborbital flight in early 2022, with eventual plans for 400 trips a year. Blue Origin, owned by Amazon's Jeff Bezos, has not yet published prices or a calendar.

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