While experts and insiders had been predicting 2014 as the year that Virgin Galactic would launch its first commercial space flight, group chief Sir Richard Branson has other ideas, declaring that that first flight would be on Christmas Day this year and that he may dress up as Santa Claus. He said that he will be taking his kids on the flight, which lasts for a total of two and a half hours and now costs $250,000 per ticket.
Virgin Galactic has been forced to push back its launch date on a number of occasions, typically citing safety concerns as the main reason. We imagine that the risk assessment form for sending the first commercial flight into space is quite a long one and will take some serious filling out. Slightly more scary than the health and safety forms is the cost of travel insurance. We’re not positive, but we’re fairly sure that space flight isn’t included in annual packages or in the free travel insurance that you can get with bank accounts and credit cards – still, if you’re shelling out $250,000 to spend four minutes in a weightless state then you can probably afford the insurance too.
Branson and Virgin Galactic hope that this flight is a precursor to super-fast shuttle flights in the future that will be able to get passengers from Sydney to London, or vice versa, in just four hours. Experts believe it is a case of getting a bigger rocket, reducing the cost of space flight, and then offering flights to the public in this way.