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One small step… for a ‘thrilled’ Ashton Kutcher as he signs up to become Virgin Galactic’s 500th astronaut

Published: March 20, 2012 | 9:19 am
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Ashton Kutcher will be soon adding the title of ‘astronaut’ to his growing resume.
The 34-year-old actor will become the 500th space traveller take a voyage on Virgin Galactic, it was announced today.

Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson announced the news via his blog.

He wrote: ‘I gave Ashton a quick call to congratulate and welcome him. He is as thrilled as we are at the prospect of being among the first to cross the final frontier (and back!) with us and to experience the magic of space for himself.’

There is as yet no comment from the Two and a Half Men star on his future voyage, but he did retweet Branson’s announcement on his Twitter account today.

Branson added: ‘Virgin Galactic is the most exciting business that we’ve ever launched and I still sometimes have to pinch myself that it’s for real.

‘Ashton is joining a fast expanding group of true pioneers who are on their way to a life changing experience and a place in the history books. It’s great to have him on board.’

Branson also took the opportunity of using today’s news to plug his new space age business venture which will cost customers in the region of $200,000 per trip.

‘Our spaceships are not only very beautiful but are built and flying in the final stages of our exhaustive test flight program,’ he wrote.

‘We are guided by safety and so will ensure that everything is just as safe as it can possibly be before we start commercial services – particularly as I will be on the first commercial flight with my kids.’

Kutcher joins a slew of celebrities who have expressed interest at jumping onboard the commercial space craft.

Former Dallas star Victoria Principal has already purchased a ticket, revealing she was the third person to buy a ride.

‘Going into space fulfils many desires I have of seeing the planet, going fast, going some place very few people have been – and hopefully coming back down!’ Principal told People.com.

However, she admitted some frustration that the first passengers on the space craft would be chosen at random.

‘I’m a passenger in something that is pioneering,’ Principal said. ‘This will become to our great-grandchildren what Wilbur and Orville Wright were to you and me.’
Physicist Stephen Hawking has also announced his intention to take a flight, with Russell Brand also rumoured to have signed up.

Other celebrities reported to have expressed an interest include Tom Hanks, Katy Perry, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt.

Virgin Galactic started taking bookings for space flights back in 2007, and it is still not clear exactly when Kutcher will be making his foray into space.
Last October, Branson launched Virgin’s new commercial space terminal in a remote patch of desert in southern New Mexico.

The building will house Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft, mission control and a preparation area for travellers when flights begin sometime after the end of this year.

With his usual flair, British billionaire Richard Branson rappelled from a balcony, shook up a big bottle of champagne and took a swig while christening the building.

‘The building is absolutely magnificent,’ he said at the launch. ‘It is literally out of this world, and that’s what we were aiming at creating.’

With the spaceport and mothership completed, the company is now finalising its safety tests.

‘We’re ticking the final boxes on the way to space,’ Branson said.

The $209million taxpayer-financed spaceport will be a launch station for people and payloads on the rocket ships being developed for Virgin Galactic.

With custom metal panelling and massive panes of glass, the state-of-the-art terminal rises from the desert floor to face the nearly two-mile(3.2-kilometer) concrete runway.

The building will house Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft, mission control and a preparation area for travellers.

It was more than six years ago that Virgin Galactic and New Mexico officials reached an agreement to build the spaceport.

Officials have said the completion of the terminal and hangar marks another major milestone that brings the dream of rocketing tourists into space closer to reality.
Commercial service will start up after the company gets a license from the Federal Aviation Administration. NASA has already signed a $4.5million contract with the company for up to three chartered research flights.

Tickets for rides aboard WhiteKnightTwo cost around $200,000. The two-and-a-half-hour flights will include about five minutes of weightlessness and views of Earth that until now only astronauts have been able to experience.

Like development of the spacecraft, construction of the 110,152-square-foot (10,233-square-metre) terminal and hangar facility has been complicated. There were delays, building code problems, contractor disputes and costly change orders
State officials blamed the unprecedented nature of the project as well as its remote location, the lack of infrastructure and the weather.

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