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One Small Step Closer to Civilian Spaceflight

Get your $200,000 ready for a seat aboard SpaceShipTwo.

According to an Associated Press report, a spokeswoman for Virgin Galactic promises a "theatrical unveil" as the world's first commercial passenger aircraft designed for space travel gets set for its unveiling today, in the Mojave Desert.

Billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic and a major shareholder in Virgin Media (Nasdaq: VMED  ) , among several other enterprises, will come one step closer to his dream of making civilian spaceflight a reality -- provided you have a small fortune handy to pay for one of the six seats onboard the new ship.

Test flights will begin next year, and SpaceShipTwo is expected to be ready to launch with its well-heeled passengers aboard in 2011 or earlier. Their ticket will earn them a 2 1/2-hour trip, about five minutes of weightlessness, and what's sure to be a stunning view of our big blue ball before the plane glides back to the ground.

The AP report notes that a few other entrepreneurs have their own plans for rocketing out of the atmosphere, including's (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) Jeff Bezos and computer-game programmer John Carmack, whose Doom and Quake games have been released by big publishers including Activision Blizzard (Nasdaq: ATVI  ) . But Branson is the first out of the gate, and 300 clients have either bought their tickets or paid a deposit. Clearly, not everybody's hurting in this recession.

What do you think about today's big unveiling? Would you love to claim a seat aboard SpaceShipTwo? Do you think space travel will ever become affordable for the average tourist? What other technologies, including nanotech, might get us cheaply into space? Blast off in the comments box below.

Fool online editor Adrian Rush would reserve a seat on SpaceShipTwo, if he had -- as his wife likes to put it -- more money than common sense. He has no position in any of the stocks mentioned in this story. Amazon and Activision Blizzard are both Stock Advisor selections. The Fool's disclosure policy is still trying to re-establish radio contact with Major Tom.

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