Richard Branson, the British business magnate and chairman of the Virgin Group, was in Israel this week to attend the Bezeq Expo communications conference.
One of his businesses is Virgin Galactic, the first commercial space travel firm in the world, which plans to offer suborbital space trips to the general public. Although the firm's actual flights are still in the experimental stage, the company is already selling tickets for space travel and has reportedly taken orders from more than 500 future space travelers from around the world.
Virgin Galactic's commercial service is scheduled to begin in a year. It will include training on one of the firm's planes on how to deal with weightlessness, followed by a two-hour space flight to an altitude of 110 kilometers above the earth. The cost of the whole package, which includes a three-day stay at a space airport hotel being built in New Mexico, is $200,000.
"People started buying tickets five years ago because they wanted to be among the first 100" space travelers, Eliron Yaron, who represents Virgin Galactic in Israel, said on Thursday. "Not all of them are from the top 10 percent" in terms of wealth, he added. "Some people mortgaged their homes and took out loans to fund the flight of their dreams."
No Israelis have yet bought tickets on the flights, Yaron acknowledged, but some have shown interest.