Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Coming soon to India: Tickets for space ride

New Delhi, Oct 17

Mountaineering, skydiving and rafting are passé. It’s time for all Indian adventure tourism enthusiasts to don a spacesuit and whoosh off to a weightless state at thrice the speed of sound. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, a global commercial space tourism group, on Tuesday entered the Indian market with an eye to woo Indians out to space - albeit at a fee of $200,000 for a two-hour ride.

Virgin Galactic, in collaboration with Deluxe Travel and GD Goenka World Travel, has opened its Indian office in New Delhi and will act as a facilitator for Indians to book tickets to space. The spaceship will be launched at a height of 50,000 feet above earth and on release from the mother craft will take a vertical trajectory at three times the speed of sound.

Carolyn Wincer, head of astronaut sales of Virgin Galactic, told reporters that nearly 300 people including four Indians have bought tickets to travel on the spaceship. “India is a growing market and we are hopeful that people who are not astronauts will venture into space via our commercial spaceships,” Wincer said.

She said four Indians have already booked their tickets and one of them is in the top 100 list of voyagers-to-be. The Spaceship 2, as the commercial flight has been named, will be ready for a test run in January 2008. Santhosh George Kulangara, an Indian- based in the US, has booked a ticket to experience space in the first year of the commercial operation of this adventurous venture.

“It will take at least 18 months to start commercial operations. Initially, the spaceship will fly once a week, taking six tourists on board. In the second year of operation we may go for two flights a day,” Wincer said. The mother ship carrying the spaceship will fly to 50,000 feet and then the rocket will be switched on. In 90 seconds the flight will reach a height of 110 km from 50,000 feet (16 km). The flight will last around two hours including a period of weightlessness.

“The tourists will have the opportunity to leave their seats and enjoy the pleasure of weightlessness (micro gravity) for a period of four to five minutes,” said Bernhard Stingl, a joint managing director of Deluxe Travel Europe. People with a healthy heart and lungs will be able to go on this voyage.

Authorities explained that since these are short duration flights, tourists would not face space sickness. “Each flight will carry two pilots and tourists will undergo a three-day training under micro gravity situation to get accustomed to the space situation,” said Wincer.

Every passenger will have access to large windows to enjoy the amazing views of up to approximately 1,000 miles in any direction and the curvature of the earth, authorities explained. They said the spaceship would adopt unique wing feathering technology to slow and control re-entry and thus help in smooth landing on earth.

Extending good wishes to Virgin Galactic, Aviation Minister Praful Patel said: “I am sure with disposable income increasing among Indians, many will go to space. The adventure spirit of Indians will get a further fillip by venturing into space via commercial spaceships”.