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Virgin Galactic is now set for take off in Israel, where a local franchise is now selling tickets for the first commercial flight to space.
Already 200 tickets have been sold around the world in 121 countries. Though none has yet been sold in Israel, 500 more seats are available for non-astronauts to be among the first 1,000 to leave the planet.
Tickets on Virgin, which is considered to be at the forefront of worldwide efforts to pioneer commercial spaceflight, cost $200,000 apiece, and the flight is estimated for the end of 2009 or the beginning of 2010. The average traveler is 50-55 years old and male. So far, only 15 percent of the ticket-holders are female.
According to Eliron Yaron, the director of the Israeli franchise of Virgin Galactic, Galactic Dreamlines, most Israelis interested in the flight are businessmen "who like new experiences and adventures."
In order to board the flight, passengers will have to undergo three days of training, as well as a physical checkup six months before liftoff. Virgin representatives acknowledge that passengers' biggest fears are their health, though the company remains unfazed. Future passengers who are well into their 70s have had no problem so far passing the physical fitness tests.
Alex Tai, COO of Virgin Galactic, will be the pilot of the first commercial flight into space, with Virgin founder Richard Branson on board. Tai is an extensively decorated former military pilot, holding 11 world records for speed.
"We're very excited to be here," Tai says of his company's expansion to Israel.
The flight will be two hours long, including up to six minutes of weightlessness in the planet's sub-orbit - just over 100 km. above the ground.
"[Passengers will] take their place in history next to Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong," says Tai.
Though Tai has never before flown in space, he explains that he should feel right at home during liftoff and reentry.
"You very much rely on piloting experience, but flying in space is going to be like nothing else before," he says.
To date, there have been only five space tourists, hailing from America, South Africa, Britain, Iran and Hungary. No Israelis have yet gone into space for pleasure.