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Virgin Galactic gives peek at spacecraft cabin

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Washington—The Virgin Galactic spaceship that will someday carry very moneyed tourists boasts windows and cameras galore for easy selfies with planet Earth.

ROOM WITH A VIEW. Image courtesy of Virgin Galactic obtained July 28 shows the cabin interior of its first SpaceshipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity in a virtual livestreamed event on Tuesday. Each seat has been engineered to match the dynamism of the flight. A pilot-controlled recline mechanism optimally positions astronauts to manage G-forces on boost and re-entry and frees up cabin space to maximize an unrestricted astronaut float zone when in zero gravity. AFP

The company, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, provided a virtual tour Tuesday of the inside of the ship that will transport people willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a brief taste of being at the edge of space.

Besides all the windows and cameras, the craft will have a mirror in the back of the cabin so people can admire themselves.

There is no firm date for the first commercial flight and the company has repeatedly pushed it back, but executives said recently it is a question of months and not years away.

Several test flights must still be made before Branson himself steps aboard.

The inside of the cabin, which will have seats for six passengers and a two-member crew, will feature 12 windows and 16 cameras. It is designed to give the best possible view of our planet.

An AFP reporter made a remote tour of the spacecraft with a virtual reality headset provided by the company. Each seat is close to a large oval-shaped porthole, and a camera is attached to each window in such a way that passengers can be photographed with Earth behind them, with no need to take a selfie of their own.

The travelers can unbuckle their seatbelts and float. Portholes in the ceiling will give them a spectacular view of the blue planet standing out against a jet black sky.

So far, 600 people who have paid up to $250,000—Virgin Galactic calls them “future astronauts”—have been waiting for years to take their seat on SpaceShipTwo.

Its development has been delayed by a devastating crash of the first one in 2014 due to a pilot error. 

The spacecraft will be taken up by a special plane and released in high altitude. Seconds later, the spaceship—part plane, part rocket—will ignite its engine and blast upward with an acceleration of 3.5 g, meaning three and a half times that of Earth’s gravitational force. 

It will then cut off the engine, which will create a feeling of weightlessness for a few minutes as the spacecraft reaches its highest point, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) above the planet, and then begin its descent like a cannonball.

It will glide to landing at a place called Spaceport America, built in the New Mexico desert.

As for fares to be paid by new customers, “we may see an increase for a bit,” chief space officer George Whitesides told a virtual news conference Tuesday. 


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