Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

What does a $250,000 ticket to space with Virgin Galactic actually buy you?

By Daisy Carrington, for CNN
August 16, 2013 -- Updated 1211 GMT (2011 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Virgin Galactic is scheduled to launch next year
  • The $250,000 trip to space will last two and a half hours
  • Three fee includes three days of training at Spaceport America
  • American astronaut Buzz Aldrin prefers civilians enter a space-travel lottery

(CNN) -- For decades, none but a few privileged -- and highly trained -- individuals could dare dream of traveling beyond Earth's orbit. All that's set to change as Richard Branson brings space exploration to the (mega-rich) masses.

In April, Virgin Galactic -- a subsidiary of Branson's Virgin Group -- hit a milestone. The rocket motor the company had been testing on the ground was fitted into SpaceShip Two, the spacecraft that, from next year onwards, will bring space travel to the general public.

"We lit the rocket motor for the first time in the air and the spaceship went through the sound barrier," recalls Stephen Attenborough, Virgin Galactic's commercial director.

"It was a hugely significant milestone for us, and in many ways, the last big piece of the jigsaw."

Read more: Virgin Galactic one flight closer to space tourism

Experiencing zero gravity on earth
Are pilotless planes within reach?
Water powered jet pack lets you fly

Though a ticket aboard SpaceShip Two doesn't come cheap -- a seat currently costs $250,000 -- Attenborough maintains that as things stand, the fare is a relative bargain.

"It's still about 1% of the price you would have needed to pay to go to space as a private citizen before now," maintains Attenborough. Indeed, in the past, the privilege cost civilians a fair share. When Dennis Tito, the world's first "space tourist" bought a seat aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2001, it allegedly cost him nearly $20 million.

Read more: What does it feel like to be weightless?

Though flights won't commence until next year at the earliest, Virgin Galactic has already sold 640 seats to space enthusiasts the world over. For some, the cost is negligible. Others, though, have taken second mortgages on their homes to pay for the tickets.

So what does $250,000 buy you?

The experience starts with three days of training at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

"There's a lot to do with getting you psychologically prepared for a trip that is absolutely about sensory overload," says Attenborough.

Read more: Google goes inside the A380

The flight itself accommodates six passengers, lasts two and a half hours, and culminates with congratulatory champagne at the spaceport. Space travelers get to leave their seats to experience several minutes of zero-gravity, and perhaps the most iconic view ever afforded mankind.

There's a lot to do with getting you psychologically prepared for a trip that is absolutely about sensory overload.
Stephen Attenborough, Virgin Galactic

"Ultimately, you get memories to last a lifetime -- a trip I think will just blow people away. When talking to professional astronauts of the past, they don't talk about (their experiences) for a day or a year, they talk about it for the rest of their lives."

Still, there are many enthusiasts eager to see the price drop, not the least of whom is American astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Aldrin recalls the first time he heard the concept of private space travel debated in a meeting room 25 years ago.

"Somebody said, 'How are we going to select (who gets to fly to space)?' Someone in the back of the room said, 'How about a lottery?' Man, my ears perked up at that, and I became a devotee of a lottery to select people."

The civilian lottery is the basis of Aldrin's non-profit, SpaceShare.

"I wasn't interested in a big pay-off of the profit made. I was interested in exposing space to a large number of people," he says.

Attenborough himself is eager to see the price drop.

"This is not just a business for Virgin. It's about the creation of a new and important industry that is going to transform space access. One of the byproducts of that is there will be competition, there will be economies of scale, and we should see the price go down," he says.

"Hopefully there will be a large, thriving, vibrant industry that will make it possible for most people to go into space in my lifetime."

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
Aviation isn't known as the most eco-friendly industry; running an airline produces an incredible amount of waste. But some are doing something about it.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1514 GMT (2314 HKT)
Airports aren't exactly stress-free zones, but drones, tracking and virtual reality could help make them better places.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 0906 GMT (1706 HKT)
In many ways, airplanes are a retailer's dream come true. They serve a captive -- often bored -- audience with a disposable income.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1835 GMT (0235 HKT)
Takeoff on one of Airbus' new A350WXB test planes is a strangely quiet experience.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
What do you pack when you travel? Take a look inside other people's luggage.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0339 GMT (1139 HKT)
Few airline routes are as cutthroat as the one between London and New York.
July 15, 2014 -- Updated 1515 GMT (2315 HKT)
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, the old adage goes; Airbus unveils revamped A330 airliner.
July 8, 2014 -- Updated 0248 GMT (1048 HKT)
Show us how you travel with twitpics and instagram via #howipack
July 7, 2014 -- Updated 0923 GMT (1723 HKT)
Could airlines drop fossil fuel in favor of cooking oil?
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 0940 GMT (1740 HKT)
How do you kill time during flight delays?
June 24, 2014 -- Updated 0800 GMT (1600 HKT)
Fancy stripping off before a flight and getting sweaty with fellow passengers? Head to Helsinki.
June 19, 2014 -- Updated 0255 GMT (1055 HKT)
The skies are under threat. Not from terrorists or hardened criminals, but from everyday passengers who seem to go a little loco.
ADVERTISEMENT