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Space tourism is within reach

Virgin Galactic's space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, achieves its

Virgin Galactic's space tourism rocket, SpaceShipTwo, achieves its first solo glide flight in October, 2010, marking another step in the company's eventual plans to fly paying passengers. (2010) Photo Credit: AP

The penultimate NASA space shuttle launch is scheduled for Friday, so in keeping with the spirit of space travel, let's take a look at the growing space tourism industry. 

Some 425 customers have plunked down $200,000 apiece to book a seat on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, according to an article Wednesday in USA Today. 

Ken Baxter, 62, of Las Vegas, was the first to write a check to secure a spot on the five-minute flight.

"I saw Richard Branson being interviewed on 60 Minutes a few years ago talking about selling seats for $200 thousand each, and I decided that instant that I was going to be the very first passenger," the Las Vegas millionaire said. "I had my secretary call Branson first thing in the morning and send in a check."

And, according to the passenger list, actress Angelina Jolie has signed up for the maiden voyage.  Actor Brad Pitt is on the list for the second trip. Tom Hanks and Victoria Principal also are among the 82 prospective space tourists whose identities are known. Virgin Galactic doesn't release its passenger lists, but JB Space Jobs compiled a list from various sources.

Passengers aboard the suborbital flight will experience weightlessness and get a sweet view of the Earth's curvature. Maybe the guy sitting next to Angelina Jolie will catch a glimpse of her curvature, as well.

Got an extra $200,000? You can book a seat for yourself here.

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