And, Branson adds, 'Great news today news from our Astronaut Relations team at Virgin Galactic: our 500th future astronaut customer has just signed up! Even better news is that number 500 is Ashton Kutcher."
"I gave Ashton a quick call to congratulate and welcome him. He is as thrilled as we are at the prospect of being among the first to cross the final frontier (and back!) with us and to experience the magic of space for himself.'
During 2012, Virgin Galactic will be testing its spacecraft - SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo -- so that commercial flights can begin in 2013 or 2014.
Once commerical operations begin, the more paying customers that are high-profile people (such as Kutcher), the more publicity that will be garnered for these suborbital flights. Thus, the more passengers eager to take a flight into space.
Eventually, in the not-so-distant future, these flights will come down in price as more flights are added to Virgin Galactic's flight manifest and more people take suborbital flights and then orbital flights around Earth.
The spacecraft, called SpaceShipTwo, will hold six paying passengers, along with two pilots. It will be lofted into space by the carrier aircraft WhiteKnightTwo - both built by Northrop Grumman's Scaled Composites, a company founded by Burt Rutan.
The suborbital flights of the Virgin Galactic team will fly up to 109 kilometers (68 miles) above the surface of Earth, which just surpasses the boundary line between Earth's atmosphere and outer space. This boundary line is officially called the KÃ¡rmÃ¡n line, and lies at an approximate altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles) above the Earth's sea level.
During this time in space - which will be only a few minutes in duration - Kutcher and fellow passengers will experience zero gravity -- also called weightlessness or microgravity, a condition in which a person feels only very little acceleration except the acceleration produced by the trajectory of the flight; essentially almost free-fall.
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