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First space passengers soon: Sir Richard Branson

New era of space travel to begin in 2014

Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson is interviewed on stage at CA World in Las Vegas.

Virgin boss Sir Richard Branson is interviewed on stage at CA World in Las Vegas.

Earth dwellers with a spare US$200,000 may have the opportunity to become astronauts next year if Virgin Galatic's commercial flights blast off on time.

Entrepreneur and Virgin Galactic boss Sir Richard Branson told 5000 attendees at CA World in Las Vegas that he will travel with his family to space in the first quarter of next year and "then a new era of space travel begins".

This is one year later than he expected flights to begin when he spoke at a McAfee event in October 2011.

Virgin Galatic's latest space craft, SpaceShipTwo, completed its first cold flow test flight above the Mojave Desert in California on April 12.

In two months time, the space craft will be tested at 2000 miles per hour and flights into space will occur throughout the rest of 2013, Branson said.

Speaking to attendees, Branson predicted that "most people in this room will go into space in their lifetime".

"You will go into space, you can look back at the earth and you are going to have the ride of a lifetime," Branson said, adding that over time, Virgin Galatic expected to reduce the high price tag.

Branson told attendees that the initial driver to build a spaceship program was a "personal quest to go into space", something he believes eight out of ten people would love to do.

Former president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev had previously invited Branson to be the first non-astronaut to travel into space in a Russian space craft. But Gorbachev wanted Branson to pay US$60 million for the privilege.

"We have a charitable foundation [Virgin Unite] and are doing a lot of work in Africa and I felt that it [paying to put himself into space] was a waste of money and it would be much better to spend that money on building our own spaceship program," Branson said.

Branson said he wanted to build a spaceship company where "thousands of people" could travel to space. He believes there are other potential benefits to future space travel, provided by Virgin Galatic.

These may include the ability to launch satellites in space much cheaper than in the past and whether that would influence the price of Internet or telephone access.

He also asked if future space craft could fly people "from New York to Australia in two hours rather than 18 hours."

"If you keep asking questions and you've got these wonderful engineers and technicians who want to prove themselves and you test them and encourage them; suddenly everything becomes possible," he said.

Byron Connolly travelled to CA World as a guest of CA Technologies.

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