Branson unveils commercial spaceplane

 spaceship-two.jpg I'm not sure how I fell about commercial space travel. One part of me thinks it's totally pointless, basically a tax on the rich and bored (boring?). Another part of me thinks it may give space exploration a desperately needed shot in the arm. And part of me just likes sexy spaceship pictures.

Richard Branson (aka 'The Anti-Subtle') has unveiled the look of Virgin Galactic's spaceplane, Spaceship II. It's a curvy Burt Rutan deisgned affair, bringing a little somethin'-somethin' to a traditionally dumpy field of design. I mean, I love the Space Shuttle, but I wouldn't put it on my mantle. If I had a mantle.

The ship rides up on a four-engined mothership- White Knight II- before igniting it's rocket boosters for the final push into space . Passengers, who pay $200,000 for the privilege, get to experience about 4 1/2 minutes of weightlessness and some pretty nifty views of Ma Earth. That's about $44,000 per minute, or $740 per second, for those of you keeping track.

I also enjoy how Branson and Co. repeatedly played down the safety of the new ship in yesterday's press conference. Said Rutan:

"Don't believe anyone who tells you that the safety level of new spaceships will be as safe as the modern airliner."

Still, the new system is apparently 'hundreds of times' safer than regular space travel, making it roughly as safe as huffing clorox in a linen closet. Cool! Although personally, I am a little disturbed by Spaceship II's lack of what I would consider a proper set of wings.

Sidebar: anyone notice the cognitive dissonance in the ship names? The blandly descriptive 'Spaceship II' and the uber-Mallorian 'White Knight II'? The design teams really need to coordinate on these things. Like 'Spaceship Two' and 'Airplane that Carries Spaceship II, II' or 'White Knight II' and 'Maid Marion I'.

Anyways, the future is apparently here, and it costs a bloody fortune. Start saving those pennies, kids!