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Tue 26 Jun 2007 05:06 PM

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Dubai gets a travel agent for space

Virgin Galactic has appointed Sharaf Travel as its 'accredited space office' for the Middle East region.

Space tourism pioneer Virgin Galactic has appointed Dubai-based travel agency Sharaf Travel as its "accredited space office" for the Middle East region.

The agency will offer commercial space flights to consumers in the Middle East at a cost of US $200,000 per ticket.

"Virgin Galactic, together with the expertise of Sharaf Travel in the Middle East market, is poised to turn the dream of going into space into a reality for many people," said Salah Sharaf, chairman, Sharaf Travel.

The first flights are likely in 2009, according to Virgin Galactic, which will own and operate the privately built spaceships.

"Initially, there will be one flight per week. As operations progress, this will increase to one and potentially two flights per day," said Carolyn Wincer, head of astronaut sales for the company.

"[The spaceships] will carry six astronaut passengers and two pilots, and will be launched from Virgin Galactic's spaceport and operational headquarters, Spaceport America, which will be built in New Mexico," she added.

The spaceship will be carried to an altitude of around 50,000 feet by a specially-designed aircraft, the mothership. Once this is reached, the spaceship will detach and ignite its own rockets, reaching a speed more than three times the speed of sound. "Astronauts" will then be able to experience zero gravity, before the craft glides back down to earth.

"There will be three days of pre-flight preparation, bonding and training onsite at the spaceport," said Wincer.

"Preparatory exercises could include g-force training in a centrifuge and zero gravity training on a parabolic flight.

"There will also be a medical exam, but we are making every effort to make space travel as inclusive as possible. Early indicators show that the medical assessment will be simple and unrestrictive."

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