Columbia resident eyes outer space trip -

Columbia resident eyes outer space trip

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- A Columbia pub owner has signed up to be a passenger on the first commercial spaceship.

Flat Branch Pub and Brewing owner Tom Smith paid $200,000 for a reservation on British billionaire Richard Branson's six-seat space ship. Tourist space flights could leave Earth as soon as 2011.

"I simply want to be in space," he told the Columbia Daily Tribune. "I want to see the curve of the Earth. I want to see the planet from space -- no lines on a map, no countries, just the Earth in its entirety. And out the other window, I'll be able to look and see the blackness of space and the stars -- the stars won't be twinkling because there will be no atmosphere between us. I'll just be able to look out into the universe."

Smith, who is among about 300 clients who have signed up for the 2 1/2 hour space flights, said he was inspired by a childhood reading science fiction. He also had an aerospace engineer father who worked for McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis.

Smith recently traveled to the Mojave Desert to watch Branson's Virgin Galactic unveil the SpaceShipTwo, which was renamed the VSS Enterprise. The six-seat, bullet-shaped craft, is roughly the size of a large business jet.

The ship is based on aviation designer Burt Rutan's prototype, the SpaceShipOne, which became the first privately manned craft to reach space in 2004.

Carried aloft by a mother ship, the White Knight, the VSS Enterprise will be released at 50,000 feet. The craft's rocket engine then burns a combination of nitrous oxide and a rubber-based solid fuel to climb more than 65 miles above the Earth's surface, giving travelers about five minutes of weightlessness.

After reaching the top of its trajectory, the craft will fall back into the atmosphere and glide to a landing like an airplane.

Designers will spend this coming year undergoing safety tests, and Branson and Rutan will be the first to fly on the ship.

Smith isn't worried about safety.

"Virgin Galactic knows a single accident puts this thing out of business," he said. "They're being very careful before they let anybody near it."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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