Branson: Our kids will be astronauts

Sir Richard Branson has acknowledged that Virgin Galactic's prices for its upcoming sub-orbital flights are not cheap, but predicted that within 20 years, whole families will be able to afford space tourism
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Virgin Galactic boss Sir Richard Branson has predicted that within two decades, the cost of space tourism will drop enough for families to take their kids into space.

Richard Branson

Speaking at the McAfee Focus conference in Las Vegas, Sir Richard Branson suggested that commercial spaceflight will be affordable within 20 years. Photo credit: McAfee

Speaking at the McAfee Focus conference on Tuesday, Branson suggested the price tag for space travel now — $200,000 (£127,800) on his company's spacecraft — is comparable to that for the first transatlantic flights by PanAm in the 1920s.

"The prices people are paying — it's not cheap. They are the pioneers," he told the audience in Las Vegas. "I'm willing to forecast today that the people in this room's children, 20 years from now, will be thinking, 'Shall we go on holiday this year, or shall we go off into space?' We'll be able to get the costs down to a level that most people's kids here will become astronauts."

More than 450 people have signed up to take sub-orbital trips once they begin, according to Virgin Galactic, and 150 of those would-be space tourists attended the formal opening of the company's spaceport in the New Mexico desert on Monday. The 120,000-square-foot facility, which cost £134m to build, is where its SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo ships will take off and land. It contains a hangar that holds up to five spacecraft, as well as a passenger terminal, an astronaut preparation area and a visitor centre.

Branson said at the McAfee conference the spaceport will be "finished and ready" for Christmas 2012, and the following year Virgin Galactic should take approximately 500 people into space. The commercial spaceflights are still in test phase, but eventually they will be able to go from Las Vegas to Australia in one-and-a-half hours, the Virgin Group chief executive predicted.

Beyond passenger transport, Nasa has already signed up to send science experiments into space on SpaceShipTwo. Branson noted safety is a paramount concern for the trips, and stressed that the spacecraft will have back-up systems to take over in the event of a failure.

In addition, Branson reiterated plans to build a Virgin space hotel. "The idea is to build it not on the moon, but off the moon, with these lovely glass pods which will be your bedroom, and actually go around the moon," he said. "Then we have tiny little spaceships where you could go off for a day ride around the moon."

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