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Space tourism: Trip of a lifetime

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Who hasn't looked up at the stars and wondered what it must be like to travel through space? Only a fortunate few have made the trip, and at enormous cost. But soon, the excitement and adventure may be within reach of many more of us.

After six months of rigorous preparation and training CNN Future Summit Nominating Committee member Anousheh Ansari became the first female space tourist when she spent a week at the International Space Station earlier this month.

Some prepartion will be needed by space tourists following in her footsteps, but the new generation of sub-orbital spacecraft will enable us to experience the weightless effects of space but within an environment more akin to a passenger jet.

"At this point, there's at least six to eight teams building private space ships," Peter Diamandis, Ansari X-Prize chairman and member of the Future Summit Nominating Committee told CNN Future Summit earlier this year.

"So I expect that you and I will be able to buy a ticket to fly into space in late 2008, late 2009 latest."

Virgin Galactic is one group already selling tickets for a ride on one of its sub-orbital spacecraft, at a reported cost of $200,000. The design is based on SpaceShipOne, the 2004 winner of the Ansari X-Prize: the first spacecraft to carry three passengers 100km above the earth's surface twice within a week.

Over 100 intrepid space tourists have signed up, showing how strong the lure of space is. As for the costs a trip on one of the new breed of passenger spaceships, dreams of a $10,000 ticket maybe some way off, but they will be a fraction of the cost of a journey to the international space station.

Building is already underway in the New Mexico desert on a multi-purpose spaceport that will be a launch site for passenger rockets from Virgin Galactic and also host the X-Prize Cup in October this year, featuring what could be the high-occtane sport of the future: The Rocket Racing League. Dare-devils only need apply.

Already attracting adventurous entrepreneurs or "thrillionaires" and re-igniting a pioneering spirit, space tourism gets the thumbs up from those who have already been there and done that.

"You can't have tourism that is supported by the taxpayer and only for the wealthy," Buzz Aldrin, told CNN.

"Joint ventures with the Ansari family or Space Adventures are the way forward and I'd really like to see orbital tourism take place and not just have it as a passenger ride on a Soyuz spacecraft going up to the space station."

In fact the journey may only be half the fun. Many see space tourism as having huge potential. Some, like CNN Future Summit Nominating Committee member Robert Bigelow, are working on providing space tourists with a destination - a hotel in orbit.

His company, Bigelow Aerospace, is designing space hotels and successfully launched a test module - Genesis-1 - earlier this year. It's a milestone in making public space travel a reality and a marker on how entrepreneurial spirit and commercial enterprise will make a real impact on space travel. Creature comforts may be minimal for the early visitors, but what a view.

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story.spaceshipone.jpg

SpaceShipOne that won the X-Prize in 2004 for the first repeated sub-orbital flight.

story.virgingalactic.jpg

An artist's impression of Virgin Galactic's space vehicle. A seat onboard could cost $200,000.

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