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Sir Richard Abseils Down Completed Spaceport

Virgin Galactic’s spaceport – the first of its kind – has finally been completed in the New Mexico desert.

You could hardly call it a passport to cheap holidays, at least not for the next couple of hundred years, but the prospect of mass space travel must surely thrill the most staid and jaded tourist. That is why Sir Richard Branson is hoping to become the first operator offering space tourism to the masses – even if they will necessarily be rather rich masses for the time being.

Today the flamboyant owner of Virgin Atlantic celebrated the christening of his New Mexico spaceport in typically colourful style, by abseiling down its side swigging from a bottle of champagne to mark its completion from scratch – the first such commercial venture of its kind.

After his descent, Sir Richard said that the finished facility was “absolutely magnificent”, adding: “It is literally out of this world, and that’s what we’re aiming at creating.”

He went on to say that when tests are complete, he and his family will be among the first on the commercial space flights, but he needs to be absolutely sure first that he can bring everyone back down to earth safely.

The first test flights will take place next year under the aegis of Sir Richard’s latest and most impressive-sounding company – Virgin Galactic. Commercial flights are pencilled in to begin in around 2013, and are expected to cost about £127,000, and last for two-and-a-half hours, giving the lucky cosmonauts five minutes of weightlessness.

Some 150 people have already bought tickets for the first flights, and they were at the spaceport in New Mexico today, along with moon landings pioneer Buzz Aldrin and the state’s governor.

Sir Richard has competition, however. Recently we reported on the joint venture between Dutch Formula One tycoon Michiel Mol and airline KLM, who are developing a space shuttle with commercial flights in mind, and who expect to be running super-fast sub-orbital flights three years’ time, with seats costing £60,000 each – and flying anywhere on earth in a couple of hours.