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Sun 29 Apr 2007 12:00 AM

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Virgin territory for UAE's first space traveller

EXCLUSIVE: Sir Richard Branson will announce the first Emirati to fly into space this Wednesday.

Sir Richard Branson will announce the first Emirati to fly into space next Wednesday,
Arabian Business

can exclusively reveal.

Branson's Virgin Galactic - the commercial space arm of his Virgin empire - has finalised the deal with a local UAE businessman, who will ride into space in late 2009.

The deal will be unveiled at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai on Wednesday, with Virgin executives currently building a secret mock-up of the Virgin Galactic space cabin, from which the UAE's first space traveller will emerge.

"We have been waiting two years to announce the first UAE national to go into space and now we're ready. The Middle East is a huge market for Virgin Galactic, given the amount of wealth in the region, and we hope that this will be the first of many commercial space travelers from the Gulf," said a Virgin Galactic source.

Prices to fly into space on Virgin Galactic are in the US$200,000-a-head mark for the first 100 travellers - known as founder members, who will blast off in early 2009. The first Virgin Galactic flight will contain Branson himself and members of his family.

It is thought that over 400 tickets have already been sold, and Virgin Galactic officials are now making a huge push for the Middle East.

"The technology is ready and now it is a case of marketing this and raising the brand. We will shortly be opening a permanent office in Dubai, charged with the task of selling tickets to local and regional people. We think we will do very well from here," said the source.

The Virgin Galactic flights into space will launch from the Mojave Spaceport in the Californian desert.

Sources suggest that Branson is looking at possible sites to build a Middle Eastern spaceport within five years, should demand for tickets from the region increase.

It is thought that Virgin Galactic executives have been closely studying plans to use either Ras Al Khamiah or Bahrain.

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