As NASA prepares to retire the space shuttle by the end of the decade, just in time for completion of the International Space Station, the tourism industry is planning to take its own giant leap into the void. Conceptual plans for the world's first tourist spaceport, designed by Foster + Partners, were unveiled today.
Known as Spaceport America, the terminal and hangar facility in Upham, New Mexico, will be home to Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic enterprise. It will operate a fleet of two transport airplanes and five spaceships designed by Burt Rutan. To ferry tourists into space and back, a transport plane, called a White Knight, carries a spaceship to an altitude of 49,000 feet, at which point the spacecraft launch into suborbital space and reach a height of 84 miles before returning to Earth. A roundtrip journey lasts 2.5 hours. Virgin expects to begin regular flights as early as 2009 and is currently accepting deposits on $200,000 "space tickets."