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Shatner aims for real 'Star Trek'


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Branson with a model of the Virgin Galactic spaceship.
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LONDON, England -- William Shatner wants to boldly go where he's only pretended to go so far.

The "Star Trek" star is among more than 7,000 people who have told Richard Branson they would gladly pay him $210,000 (£115,000) for a trip aboard his planned spacecraft, the entrepreneur said Friday.

Former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Dave Navarro has signed up for a ride, and a Hollywood director who was not identified has booked an entire ship.

Trevor Beattie, chairman of the ad agency TBWA -- responsible for campaigns such as the "Hello Boys" Wonderbra campaign with Eva Herzigova -- offered to send a check as soon as the project was launched last month.

In all, more than $1.45 billion (£800 million) has been pledged -- years before the Virgin Galactic spaceship is even built, Branson said.

Branson, 54, is pouring $135 million (£74 million) into his latest commercial experiment, which promises to send the paying public 70 miles above the planet to experience six minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth.

Speaking from the Mojave Desert in California, Branson told the UK's Press Association he was overwhelmed by the response.

"We are extremely pleased because it just means in a sense that the gamble we took seems to have paid off," he said.

"Market research suggested that there were that sort of number of people willing to agree to that sort of price.

"We have committed £60 million and we have had a tremendous take-up. All indicators are that the risk was worth taking.

In addition to that amount, Virgin has spent £14 million buying the licensing rights to Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne, which successfully launched into space twice earlier this month to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

Five- or nine-seater spacecraft are being designed which will travel at three times the speed of sound. The journey into space will last around three and a half hours.

Despite the interest, Branson said the first flight will be reserved for him and his family -- including his father, Ted.

The spacecraft is scheduled to be ready in 2008 -- to coincide with the elder Branson's 90th birthday.

"My dad has put his hand up and will be 90 at the time, my kids definitely want to come and if there is room for my mum she will come as well," Branson said.

If his father joined the flight, he would be the oldest person to fly in space, beating U.S. senator and space pioneer John Glenn, who went back into space in 2001 at age 77.

Alongside would his mother Eve, 80, his 21-year-old daughter Holly and 18-year-old son Sam.

But Branson said his wife, Joan, has no desire to leave the planet.

"My kids definitely want to go, my parents definitely want to go, but Joan will have her feet firmly on the ground, I suspect, trying to encourage the kids to stay on the ground."

Virgin will build five spaceships, and Branson said he hopes they will eventually be launched from various stations around the world, including Europe.

"If we can make it a success, then I hope we can lower the price so that more people can realize their dream and go into space."


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