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An inside look at Virgin Galatic’s newest passenger spaceship #space

CNN Tech has a great story on Virgin Galatic’s newest passenger spaceship.

When I first poked my head inside Virgin Galactic’s newest spaceship, I felt a little like I was getting a front-row seat to space history.

The company, led by billionaire Richard Branson, allowed CNN unprecedented access to a “SpaceShipTwo, Serial Two” spacecraft which was being carefully assembled by workers at a secure facility in the high desert north of Los Angeles.

This invention spun from carbon fiber and imagination is designed to fly tourists some 60 miles high to the edge of space.

In 2008, Branson predicted the company would be launching paying passengers by 2010. Obviously that hasn’t happened yet. Meanwhile, more than 700 people — reportedly including astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, Justin Bieber and Ashton Kutcher — are awaiting to gain official status as Space Cowboys.

The latest word: Virgin Galactic says it’s on track to begin commercial service by the end of this year.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Branson tweeted in January.

The spaceship I boarded isn’t expected to fly until 2015. I was asked not to take photos or video. From the inside, it looks bigger than you’d expect after seeing its 60-foot-long exterior. For some reason I expected more machinery during assembly. Standing inside the cabin’s shell, I found four technicians working away with precision and TLC.

There were no furnishings installed yet, so I tried to imagine which of the six seats in the spacecraft would be my choice — if I could afford a $250,000 ticket.

The cabin is dotted with so many windows it blew me away — a side window and a ceiling window for every passenger. I imagined myself in the front row. Right side. Stepping carefully to the window, I remembered what space travelers have said about the power of seeing the awe-inspiring curvature of the Earth and what a life-changing experience that is.

I was sort of projecting that as I stood inside the spaceship.

Here’s how Virgin Galactic’s space tours are supposed to work: Six passengers and two pilots will board a SpaceShipTwo — a combination rocket and glider. The ship is attached to a powerful airplane, called a WhiteKnightTwo. That plane flies the rocket/gilder up to about 50,000 feet.

Then the real fun starts.

The pilots separate the spacecraft from the plane. They ignite the spacecraft’s rocket engine, creating G-forces that pin passengers back in their seats, according to Virgin Galactic. They’ll experience “eye-watering acceleration” to nearly 2,500 mph, more than three times the speed of sound.

As the ship reaches higher and higher, the cobalt blue sky turns to black. Then: engines off.

Silence.

Passengers will be allowed out of their seats — to feel that weightlessness we’ve all heard so much about.

It will be interesting to learn what really happens during the six minutes of weightlessness that Virgin Galactic says passengers will get on each flight. Imagine all six passengers inside this cabin as they’re dying to get that space-faring-selfie they can post online for the rest of their lives.

I’m wondering: What are the rules in space to get those photos? How is that going to work? Is everyone going to be bumping into each other while they’re floating around the cabin? There were four workers in the ship’s cabin with me, and I could imagine us all bumping into each other — accidentally throwing an elbow while we tried to maintain balance and control in zero-G.

After the weightless portion of the flight — if all goes according to plan — passengers will strap themselves back into their seats before the spacecraft yields to the forces of gravity and begins its glide downward toward sweet Mother Earth.

Read the full story here.

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