Brangelina to blast into space with Branson


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The Independent Online

Sir Richard Branson has announced the latest developments in his Virgin Galactic programme, claiming the first fare-paying tourists will be launched 60 miles into space by the end of next year.

Some 529 people have signed up for the $200,000 (£128,000) flights, more than the 528 people who have gone into space since Yuri Gagarin's ground-breaking journey in 1961.

Though expensive, the price is a hundred times lower than the fee paid by the world's first space tourist, Californian billionaire Dennis Tito, in 2001.

The wealthy astronauts-to-be are thought to include Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. During the two-hour flights, celebrities and the incredibly rich alike will be able to float around the cabin due to weightlessness.

They will undergo a week's training before blasting off in groups of six from a spaceport built in New Mexico, USA, by British architect Lord Foster.

The first Virgin Galactic passengers will be Sir Richard and his children. "Next year Holly and Sam will be joining me for a first voyage into space," he told an audience at the Farnborough Air Show. "Going into space is a hard business. It keeps my mind buzzing."

Sir Richard's SpaceShipTwo (SS2) aircraft was built for tourist purposes, but the technology could be adapted to send smaller spacecraft into orbit.

The WhiteKnightTwo aircraft that will launch SS2 into space has undergone 80 tests, and will also be used for a new launch vehicle – LauncherOne.

Aiming a joke at a rival, Sir Richard said: "It would have been nice to have flown over the Olympics, especially as British Airways is one of the sponsors."