NASA Hitching Space Rides From Richard Branson
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By STEVEN SPARKMAN
NASA, the organization that pioneered space flight, is now hitching a ride from Richard Branson. Branson's private space flight company Virgin Galactic put the space agency on its client list this week. Here's WBBH with the details.
"NASA just booked its first flight on a private space line, announcing a deal with Virgin Galactic. It is the first flight, and if it's successful there will be two options for more. The deal is worth an estimated $4.5 million. The flights will transport up to 1300 pounds of scientific equipment from Virgin's spaceport in New Mexico."
In Virgin Galactic flights, passengers will load onto a smaller, rocket equipped plane, which will itself be carried to 50,000 feet by a larger craft. Then it will disengage, angle upward, and -- blastoff! The trip will give passengers a view of the curvature of the Earth, and several minutes of weightlessness. (Video source: Airboyd)
A ticket to space will cost around $200,000. According to Wired UK, plenty of customers other than NASA people are lining up for a ride.
"Giving researchers easy access to space for experiments is another string on Virgin's bow. The company has already collected more than $58 million in deposits from 455 future tourists, but researchers like Nasa offer another business opportunity."
Another big get for Virgin Galactic this week -- they managed to nab some top NASA talent from the new-retired space shuttle program. Space.com explains.
"...Virgin Galactic announced that Mike Moses, NASA's former deputy space shuttle program chief, had joined the company's ranks as vice president of operations. ... Moses has considerable experience overseeing human spaceflight operations... He provided ultimate launch decision authority for the final 12 missions of the now-retired shuttle program..."
NASA itself is currently grounded, and is working with private companies to meet its space-faring needs. But a writer for Mashable says, don't look at these contracts as NASA giving up -- they're more like a stopgap.
"Does this mean NASA is getting desperate? Not necessarily. While the space agency regroups with hopes to get humans into space again in a few years, NASA can still perform suborbital experiments that require human interaction. At the same time, it continues to send robotic probes throughout the solar system and beyond."