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Moon trips next, says space tourist

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- One of only two people to pay their own way into space says space tourism will become an integral part of the industry, eventually leading to more trips to the moon.

South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth was the first African and only the second "space tourist" to enter space on April 25, 2002.

He recently told CNN's Spark program that privately funded space voyages would be the driving force behind developments in the industry in future.

"I think it's the tourism business effectively that's going to drive innovation, drive product development, reduce the costs so that the space agencies, the public space agencies, can push their manned space flight program even further into the solar system," he said. Full interview

"We've really seen the first vehicles being qualified to do that and there will be many more. Now that it has been done, it's a bit like the four-minute mile. I think you will see substantial investment into the sector."

On October 4 this year, a Californian-based team won the $10 million Ansari X Prize, which aims to spur civilian spaceflight, by climbing to an altitude of 377,591 feet (71 1/2 miles).

Just days before, British entrepreneur Richard Branson announced plans to launch "Virgin Galactic," which will offer the world's first commercial flights to space.

Shuttleworth told CNN that renewed interest in space travel in recent years -- partly triggered by tourism and partly triggered by new entrants such as China -- would lead to interest in visits to the moon.

"It's going to be a very rich interplay between commercial space flight, private space flight and a public exploration into the solar system for the greater good of humanity," he said.

"The two are absolutely interlinked and we couldn't realistically get to the moon without reductions in cost, which will only come from private space tourism."

He envisaged private flights to the edge of the atmosphere would start happening within two years, and within five years, the trips would be happening regularly, he said.

Shuttleworth would not reveal exactly how much he paid for his experience but it is believed to be in the vicinity of US$20 million.

He said he would jump at the chance to do it again.

"I learnt a tremendous amount about myself. You can't go through something as partly traumatic as that without learning a lot about yourself and I learnt a tremendous amount about something that I'm absolutely fascinated about: the space industry and the people who devote their lives to space."

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