Sir Richard Branson is preparing for the dawn of a new space race which will be contested by private companies and hopes within the next decade to be launching 40 spaceships twice a day, carrying six passengers at a time.
The founder of the Virgin Atlantic airline unveiled the VSS Enterprise, his first commercial spaceship, in the windswept Mojave desert in California late on Monday, and said his engineers would spend the next 12 months completing rigorous tests to make sure the craft is safe and ready to carry paying customers.
周一晚，在多风的莫哈韦沙漠，这位维珍航空(Virgin Atlantic)的创始人揭开了他第一艘商业宇宙飞船VSS Enterprise的神秘面纱。他表示，他的工程师们将在未来12个月内完成一系列严格测试，确保飞船安全且适宜运载付费顾客。
His Virgin Galactic company aims to have the spaceship ready for commercial flights by 2011. It has signed up more than 300 customers who will pay $200,000 for a two-hour round trip into space.
"Once they're in space, they'll unbuckle their seats . . . they can look back at the earth and they can float around and they can become astronauts," said Sir Richard.
The project has the backing of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, and Bill Richardson, New Mexico's governor.
Mr Schwarzenegger told an audience of Virgin Galactic customers that the VSS Enterprise, which was designed and built in California, continued a grand tradition of aerospace innovation in the state. "Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier right here and the first space shuttles were built and landed here."
Mr Richardson said New Mexico had pledged 0m to invest in a "spaceport" from which the first Virgin Galactic flights will be launched and said the state was "proud to be on the ground floor of the second space age".
Sir Richard told the Financial Times in an interview that he hoped Nasa would eventually work more closely with the private sector on commercial space travel. "Nasa has a very sexy brand name but has spent billions and billions of dollars on projects that don't need to cost billions and billions."
He added the organisation "should enable private companies to take on more of the things that they do . . . [but] still keep the infrastructure of Nasa to oversee these projects. I have a feeling that the Obama government may be thinking that way."