Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson Targets Space Flight in 2013

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The entrepreneur’s Virgin Galactic has accepted deposits for flights from 529 people, including Ashton Kutcher, with one report suggesting Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are also among them.

LONDON - U.K. entrepreneur Richard Branson, who created the Virgin Group empire, including the Virgin Megastores and Virgin Records music label, said Wednesday that he and his family plan to be the first passengers of a space tourism project he targets to launch next year.

Virgin Galactic, his company that is developing a sub-orbital space flight program, said during a press event just outside London that it has so far accepted deposits for the two-hour flights, which cost $200,000, from 529 people. It highlighted that this was one more  "than the count of people who have been to space throughout human history” since Yuri Gagarin's went in 1961.

Commercial flights are scheduled to start in 2016.

Virgin Galactic didn't mention names of celebrities among the future astronauts on what it calls SpaceShipTwo, but Branson previously announced that Ashton Kutcher signed up as his 500th passenger, and the Independent reported Wednesday that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are believed to be among them.

A Virgin spokeswoman said she wasn't in a position to confirm that the Hollywood power couple was planning a space flight.

“Virgin Galactic’s goal is to revolutionize the way we get to space,” Branson said in a statement. “I’m immensely proud of what we have already achieved as we draw near to regular suborbital flights on SpaceShipTwo."
The space flights are scheduled to launch from a station in New Mexico. The space ships can carry six passengers and two pilots, with passengers able to float around the cabin for a while due to weightlessness.


Twitter: @georgszalai