NASA, Virgin to collaborate on space flights

NASA and Virgin Galactic signed an agreement to explore the possibility of working together to develop new space suits, hybrid rocket motors and other space technology. Under the two-year memorandum of understanding, neither the NASA Ames Research Center nor Virgin Galactic would have to pay fees or fund the exploratory collaboration. Wednesday's deal is the latest in a string of public-private partnerships that the space agency has made with players in the infant space tourism industry. Virgin Galactic, founded by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, plans to test-fly a vehicle being built by famed aerospace designer Burt Rutan next year and fly commercially by 2009. Rutan's SpaceShipOne made history in 2004 when it became the first privately funded manned rocket to reach space.