British entrepreneur Richard Branson plans to launch the world’s first passenger service to space in 2007. His zero-g flights will be offered for a mere $198,600 (more or less, depending on the exchange rate). He’s teaming up with Paul Allen to build five capsules for the flights.

The flights will climb to about 130 kilometers, roughly six times higher than regular commercial planes, and include four minutes of weightlessness, views of the horizon from 1,200 miles away and possibly a gin and tonic if granted a liquor license.

That’s a pretty short flight for the price, I think. But perhaps the gin & tonic makes it worthwhile. Do you get to keep the glass? Does it have to be gin? I’d much prefer a vodka martini — straight up with a twist, please, and shaken, not stirred.

Branson said he planned to use the proceeds from the first well-heeled customers to bring prices down in the next few years to make space travel affordable to the regular tourist.

“The orbital hotel will happen,” he said.

Virgin expects 3,000 customers in the first five years.

But, will the orbital hotel be starstarstarstarstar ?? If I’m paying upwards of $200k just for the flight up there, I expect turn-down service, at the very least!

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