Over five years ago, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's $25 million SpaceShipOne crossed the boundary between the Earth's atmosphere and outer space--a line located some 62 miles above the Earth's surface. The flight landed Allen's team the honor of being the first in history to complete a privately-funded human space flight, for which they won a comparatively small $10 million prize. Now billionaire industrialist and Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson plans to do him one-better: On Monday afternoon, Branson unveiled the SpaceShipTwo: V.S.S. Enterprise, the world's "first commercial spacecraft." Set to lift off with Branson, his family, and designer Burt Rutan in tow next year, the vessel is the literal flagship of Branson's Virgin Galactic venture, which promises to give space tours for $200,000 a pop as early as 2011. With a long list of wealthy takers already wrangling to reserve seats, bloggers were hopeful that Branson's big bet would pay off and pave the way for affordable space travel for the masses.
- Space Is The New Hawai'i Wired's Jason Paur is optimistic that Branson can make the common dreams for safe, affordable space travel come true: "With more than 300 future passengers already putting up the $200,000 for a seat on SpaceShipTwo, there appears to be a strong demand for the rides to the blackness of space. After a few successful flights are broadcast to the world, more people are expected to line up for a window seat on the first commercial spaceship. And hopefully prices will drop so that some day those who want to enjoy the thrill of space flight can trade a week on the beaches of Waikiki, for a view from more than 350,000 feet."
- We're All Astronauts Now Or at least, we should be soon, opines a hopeful Darren Murph at Engadget. Acknowledging that Branson's first truly commercial spacecraft has been a long time coming, he is thrilled to imagine the future beyond 2011: "Of course, the ship still has an awful lot of regulatory passing to do, and the Spaceport America in New Mexico still has to be built, but it's nothing short of fantastic to see the wheels turning in the right direction. Just think -- you can finally tell you kid that an aeronautical engineering degree isn't required to leave the atmosphere. Future, we heart thee."
- The Real 'Enterprise' The Telegraph is keen on making pop-cultural connections, but admits that Branson is nearly single-handedly leading the charge when it comes to space travel: "Apparently, the machine has a carbon footprint no larger than a yeti's, although it's still a lot to pay for five minutes' weightlessness. But the name of the ship is doubly significant: the Enterprise. It nods to the fantasies of Trekkies, but also to the buccaneering spirit that propels Sir Richard to achievements that leave state agencies behind on the ground."
- Spacemen United Philanthropist Peter Diamandis is credited with many for igniting the commercial "space race" by creating the $10 million Ansari X-prize for the first privately financed reusable spacecraft capable of reaching 100 km in altitude, which was awarded to the SpaceShipOne. Blogging for the Huffington Post, Diamandis credits all the recent investors into commercial spaceflight, including Branson for the SpaceShipTwo: "Ultimately, it's easy to dream and talk about spaceflight, but it comes down to those who put up their wealth, reputations and time. It is for this reason that today I praise Richard Branson, Will Whitehorn, Burt Rutan, Paul Allen and the Ansari Family for their role in SpaceShipOne and SpaceShipTwo. We all share a mutual desire and vision to enable the day when tens of thousands of people will be traveling beyond the Earth on a regular basis."
- Richard Branson Is a Real Life Willy Wonka Esquire's Tim Heffernan recalls how surprised and delighted he was to see the mind-bending cult film "Donnie Darko" during one of his flights on Virgin Airlines, a move which he said indicates billionaire-owner Branson's "healthy sense of humor, and respect for [his] customers' maturity." Similarly, Herrnan says that the SpaceShipTwo and Branson's various other ambitious investments make him more in-line with the eccentric tycoons of yore than today's reserved CEOs: "Anyway, today's endorsement is of that old type of tycoon we rarely see anymore: the populist showman. Of course these swashbucklers are in it for themselves, and none of 'em would deny it. But they bring the rest of us along for the ride in a way that less daring, more joyless tycoons don't. Branson is one of them, and he's looking ever more like the last of a breed. Let's hope he's not."