If things go as Richard Branson hopes, today will go down as one of the most important days in human history. This afternoon in New Mexico Branson and the state’s governor Susana Martinez opened Spaceport America. This is the first of Virgin Galactic’s planned spaceports from which they’ll launch actual, commercial flights which will take passenger’s outside Earth’s atmosphere.
As reported by Virgin, flying overhead during the dedication ceremony were two of their craft, WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. The first, WhiteKnightTwo will be used to prepare passengers for the rigors of space travel using atmosphere aerobatics. It also functions as sort of a mothership for their spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo. SpaceShipTwo is the actual vehicle meant to take people in to space.
Here’s a look at SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnight, joined together and parked at Spaceport America:
When Branson announced commercial space travel as his goal a few years ago, I’m not sure the world took it seriously. It sounded like the wild ideas of a billionaire with too much money and not enough sense. But here we are and, commercial space travel is on the verge of becoming a reality… at least if you’re very rich.
Virgin Galactic expects to begin commercial flights into space some time in 2012. They even have contracts with NASA, to do some of the work America’s national space program can no longer do, now that they’ve shut down their shuttle fleet.