By ALICIA CHANG, AP Science Writer Alicia Chang, Ap Science Writer Mon Dec 7, 4:57 am ET
LOS ANGELES After five years of secret construction, the cloak is coming off a privately funded spacecraft designed to fly well-heeled tourists into space.
The long-awaited glimpse of SpaceShipTwo, slated for rollout Monday in the Mojave Desert, could not come sooner for the scores of wannabe astronauts who have forked over part of their disposable income for the chance to float in zero gravity.
"We've all been patiently waiting to see exactly what the vehicle is going to look like," said Peter Cheney, a 63-year-old potential space tourist from Seattle who was among the first to sign up for suborbital space rides marketed by Virgin Galactic. "It would be nice to see it in the flesh."
Virgin Galactic spokeswoman Jackie McQuillan promised a "theatrical unveil" followed by a cocktail party for paying passengers and other VIPs.
SpaceShipTwo's debut marks the first public appearance of a commercial passenger spacecraft. The project is bankrolled by Virgin Galactic founder, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who partnered with famed aviation designer Burt Rutan, the brains behind the venture.
SpaceShipTwo is based on Rutan's design of a stubby white prototype called SpaceShipOne. In 2004, SpaceShipOne captured the $10 million Ansari X Prize by becoming the first privately manned craft to reach space.
Since the historic feat, engineers from Rutan's Scaled Composites LLC have been laboring in a Mojave hangar to commercialize the prototype in heavy secrecy.
The last time there was this level of hoopla in the high desert was a little more than a year ago when Branson and Rutan trotted out to great fanfare the twin-fuselage mothership, White Knight Two, that will ferry SpaceShipTwo to launch altitude.
Despite the hype, hard work lies ahead before space journeys could become as routine as air travel.
Flight testing of White Knight Two has been ongoing for the past year. The first SpaceShipTwo test flights are expected to start next year, with full-fledged space launches to its maximum altitude by or in 2011.
For the rest of the article...
AP This undated file photo provided by Virgin Galactic shows placement of the center beam during SpaceShipTwo's