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Once-in-a-lifetime flight pushes the envelope

A local travel agent has a trip planned that’s out of this world - Literally.

Scott Borden, a 25-year plus veteran of the travel business, is one of four accredited space agents in San Diego, 45 throughout the country. “We’re the first space agents on Earth,” noted Borden, who recently added outer space to his travel portfolio with Travel Dynamics Group, Inc. at 7590 Fay Ave., Suite 204 in La Jolla. “Only accredited space agents such as myself are permited to make bookings.”

But outer space is definitely not for the squemish - or the poor - at this point. For $200,000, clients can now book passage in a couple of years aboard a private, commercial flight leaving the Earth’s atmosphere. “Everybody gets very excited about it,” said Borden, “then they check their bank account to see if they can do it.”

Borden is an accredited space agent for Virgin Galactic space tourism flights, which are based on the X-Prize-winning SpaceShipOne design created by Burt Rutan and supported by Microsoft’s Paul Allen and Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson. The Virgin group is a worldwide operation with a variety of businesses from airlines to mobile phones to Spaceship One, a commercial space flight. Virgin’s goal is to make space travel affordable. In two years time, when flights begin, the expected price will be 1 percent of the only other currently available private option - $20 million for a Russian flight to the Space Station - and a tiny fraction of what it costs for each NASA space shuttle flight.

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“That (Russian) trip requires six months of training,” said Borden. “The Virgin program is three days, two days of training and then the final day is the flight.”

The private space program, said Borden, is desingned to give people the space experience with relatively minimal training and at a comparatively reasonable cost.

To become an accredited space agent, Borden went through two months of screening and personal interviews, as well as undergoing final training for three days in Florida at Kennedy Space Center. “We also did some centrifuge spinning at high speeds,” he said, “to get used to the high gravity required for space travel.”

Spaceship Two will be going from 3 Gs, three times the amount of gravity on Earth, to as high as 6 gs for a few seconds at the peak of the flight.

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The generally accepted boundary of space is 100 kilometers up, about 62 miles. That boundary was broken three times by SpaceShip One in 2004. Spaceship One now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. next to Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis aircraft.

The next generation of private, commercial space vehicles, a fleet of five Spaceship Twos, are currently under constrution in Mojave, Calif. “The first one should roll out in fall of this year,” said Borden, “and will be tested from 12 to 18 months. The first commercial passenger flights would be in fall 2009 at the earliest.”

Spaceship Two will carry six passengers and two pilots trained by Virgin Galactic. The total private commercial space flight is 2 to 2 1/2 hours in duration, involving four to five minutes of weightlessness at approximately 71 miles above the Earth.

Borden talked about what prompted him to become one of the first-ever accredited space agents. “I grew up with the whole space race beginning in 1956 with Sputnik,” he said. “In my childhood and early youth, I was fascinated by space.”

But Borden’s been disappointed by the painfully long time it’s take for space flight to filter down to the masses. “Fifty years after Sputnik,” he said, “we’re no closer to taking regular people into space than we’ve been since we landed on the moon. I’m very excited about this opportunity to get regular people up into space.”

Borden jokes with people saying, “Twenty years from now, Southwest Airlines will be flying to space.”

Is space flight a tough sell? Not so far, said Borden, adding more than 200 people have already reserved passage aboard Spaceship Two with a full $200,000 deposit. There’s a waiting list beyond that which requires deposits of clients ranging from $100,000 to $175,000.

Borden noted Southern California has become the epicenter for private, commercial space travel. He sees the potential for the new business as being nothing short of astronomical. “It could potentially explode,” he said. “Beyond just space tourism, there are lots of applications for private, non-governmental space flights, putting satellites in orbit. The possibilities are somewhat endless.”

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Ben Riecken, a university flight instructor in Florida, is so impressed by the private space travel concept he’s established a Web site, www.mytripinspace.com, which sells advertising space by the pixel in an attempt to raise the $200,000 cost of making the outer space jaunt. “I knew right away space travel will be affordable at some point,” Riecken said. “Space is not anymore a playground for the government or the wealthy. So I’ve designed a Web site to finance this trip.”

Riecken said what’s he’s doing is similar to what an Englishman did om establishing a million-dollar home page. “That gentleman raised $1 million by selling a million pixels,” he said. “I want to show Virgin Galactic what I’m doing, that the average Joe can still go in space. In the end, it’s really to make it affordable to everyone.”

For more information call Scott Borden at (858) 551-6970.