Virgin Galactic Unveils First Tourist Spaceship

Aspiring space tourists got a first look at their future ride late Monday, when Virgin Galactic unveiled the first of its long-awaited SpaceShipTwo planes (pictured with wings folded upward, suspended from the middle of its twin-fuselage launch vehicle).

After years of teases, the world's only commercial spacecraft rolled out onto the tarmac at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. There, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson christened the Virgin Galactic craft with the customary smashing of champagne bottles.

Virgin Galactic leader Sir Richard Branson's daughter, Holly, announced the first SpaceShipTwo plane's name: V.S.S. Enterprise, short for Virgin Space Ship Enterprise, said Virgin Galactic President Will Whitehorn.

Virgin Galactic chose "Enterprise" for its long tradition in maritime and aviation history, he said.

"It was the name of the first [NASA] space shuttle, and it has dominated science fiction as a kind of watchword for human spaceflight in the future," Whitehorn said.

Virgin Galactic Holds a Wedding

V.S.S. Enterprise is based on SpaceShipOne, a reusable manned spacecraft designed by aviation designer Burt Rutan, which won the U.S. $10-million Ansari X Prize in 2004. (Related: fast facts on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipOne.)

Whitehorn said the Enterprise had recently been "married" to EVE, the twin-fuselage mother ship that will ferry it to launch altitude, about 50,000 feet (15,200 meters)—the space shuttle, by contrast, separates from its booster rockets at about 150,000 feet (45,700 meters). (See pictures of Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson unveiling EVE last year.)

Enterprise is the first of five planned SpaceShipTwo planes. It measures 60 feet (18 meters) long and is intended to carry two pilots and six passengers, who will pay handsomely for two-and-a-half-hour flights into suborbital space, where they'll experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth.

Monday's unveiling was attended by some of the 300 or so potential passengers who have already put down at least a deposit on a U.S. $200,000 Virgin Galactic ticket.


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