And you thought space tourism was just a pipe dream: Tomorrow, Spaceport America, designed by Foster + Partners and located in New Mexico, breaks ground. Festivities are underway today in celebration of the milestone, including a mariachi band (this being New Mexico, after all). Governor Bill Richardson will preside over the official groundbreaking. The project’s $200 million price tag will be funded by taxpayers; all told, it’s expected to create upwards of 500 jobs over the next four years. “It’s real,” as Steve Landeene, the spaceport’s executive director, told Mother Nature Network. “You’re not talking about things drawn on paper anymore. The boondogglefactor has started to disappear.”
The spaceport’s anchor tenant is Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by daredeveil business-mogul Sir Richard Branson. The company will be flying a two-stage aircraft designed by Burt Rutan, who won the first X-prize in 2004, by designing the first private aircraft to reach the lower boundary of space, 62 miles up. So far, over 250 people have placed deposits on the company’s initial flights, which will last about 2.5 hours and feature around six minutes of weightlessness. Final ticket price is expected to $200,000–which explains why analysts have pegged space tourism to be a multi-billion dollar industry within ten years. Virgin Galatic has been making steady progress on its final ship design–the prototypes have already taken test flights, and are expected to be operational by 2010.
Numerous companies are hot on Virgin’s tail, including X-Cor, which will offer $95,000 flights featuring a slightly different flight experience. (You can compare all of the would-be space tourism operators, and what they offer, in a Popular Science article I wrote here.)