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Space tourism close to reality?

Sept. 8, 2012 at 1:27 PM

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 (UPI) -- Commercial space tourism will be a reality within a few years, an official at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington says.

Companies have already begun booking trips, The New York Times reported Saturday.

They range from short trips for a lot of money, with Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic Airlines offering 2 hours in flight for $200,000, to longer ones for a whole lot of money -- $150 million for a stay at a "gravity-neutral point" near the moon.

A few well-heeled people have already gone into space by paying Russia $20 million or so for a trip to the International Space Station.

"There's no question, in the next couple of years there's going to be commercial space tourism," said Roger D. Launius, senior curator of space history at the National Air and Space Museum. "That's clearly going to happen."

Experts say one reason for the burgeoning interest in space tourism is that, in an era when one of the big problems on Mount Everest is litter, there are fewer untrafficked places to go. Another is that NASA's turn to private contractors to provide transport to the Space Station has sparked interest among entrepreneurs.

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