Aussies will be among first space tourists: Branson
RICHARD Branson has revealed Australians will be among the first into space on his Virgin Galactic flights.
The Virgin Group founder said in an interview with News Corp Australia that he believed space travel would become cheaper just like air travel did when it was opened up to competition.
And he reaffirmed his determination to be one of the first passengers in space on his bold plans to conquer the universe.
"Australia is home to one of our larger populations of future astronauts, with around 30 residing in Australia, of which 20 are Australian nationals. The group come from a variety of backgrounds, from astro physicists to miners to entrepreneurs," he said.
Mr Branson's comments come ahead of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
The businessman, who has dabbled in planes, trains and credit cards, said he was passionate about space exploration.
"Space is fundamentally hard, particularly when it involves the transport of humans and it doesn't come cheap," he said.
"However you could have said exactly the same about aviation in the early days; travelling by air was indeed out of the price range for the vast majority.
"When man first walked on the moon, most people who travelled from Europe to Australia did so by sea - for that reason."
Mr Branson said there would be economies of scale once there were successful civilian space flights, bringing down prices like it did in aviation.
Virgin Galactic said this month that it was about to go public on the stock exchange with $US800 million ($A1.4 billion) investments for 49 per cent of the company.
Passengers from 60 countries, including Leonardo Di Caprio and Justin Bieber, have already signed up for space flights charged at up to $250,000.
The company already has $US80 million in reservations.
Mr Branson told News Corp Australia he would buckle up for a flight.
"One of my primary motivations for starting Virgin Galactic was that I had long dreamed of experiencing space myself and had a hunch that millions of others were dreaming the same dreams," he said.
"Having realised that the then existing space operators weren't interested in opening space to the general public I decided to take matters into my own hands and we believe we are now close to start making those dreams reality.
"Since 1969 at the age of 19, when I watched the moon landing on my family's black and white television I have yearned to go to space, so yes, I have always said I will be on the inaugural commercial flight and that remains the case today."
Mr Branson has been battling rivals, including Elon Musk, for the commercial rights to win the space race.
But he said safety was still the most important consideration.
"Safety has always been Virgin Galactic's North Star. That is why we have been working at this diligently for nearly fifteen years," he said.
"There are no shortcuts, space is hard and can be unforgiving but with perseverance, commitment and vehicles which are safer by design we believe space is within the reach of the many, not just the few.
"Modern technology is of course fundamental to managing the risks inherent in spaceflight more effectively. But we don't confuse that with complexity. Our vehicles are relatively simple in many respects and designed that way specifically to enhance safety."