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NASA Books Flight On Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo in full feather wing mode on a rapid descent from its drop altitude of 51,500 feet over Mojave, Calif. in May of 2011. This photograph was taken with high powered telescopes from the ground.

SpaceShipTwo in full feather wing mode on a rapid descent from its drop altitude of 51,500 feet over Mojave, Calif. in May of 2011. This photograph was taken with high powered telescopes from the ground.

Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/Clay Center Obse hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic/Clay Center Obse

Virgin Galactic announced today that NASA has booked its first charter flight to space on the company's SpaceShipTwo, which the company says will take off from its New Mexico spaceport.

The contract could be worth up to $4.5 million if NASA exercises its right to book two more flights. Virgin said NASA will use its flight on the spacecraft for "engineers, technologists, and scientific researchers to conduct cutting-edge experiments in space."

The AP reports:

Virgin Galactic says each mission allows for up to 1,300 pounds of scientific experiments.

Earlier this week, Virgin Galactic announced it hired former NASA executive Michael Moses as vice president of operations.

Virgin Galactic is owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Aabar Investments PJS. It's on track to be the world's first commercial spaceline and hopes to launch its first flight within the next year from Spaceport America, about 50 miles north of Las Cruces.

The flights will be suborbital, reports the Los Angeles Times. That is that an aircraft will carry SpaceShipTwo to 50,000 feet and then a rocket will take it to the edge of space.

"At that suborbital altitude, passengers will experience weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth," the Times reports. "The company said it has taken about 455 reservations for the ride. The price per flight for a wannabe space tourist is $200,000."

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