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Booking a flight to space, with travel insurance

To go to outer space, Catherine Culver went to a travel agent.

The first flights of the new airlines that will take tourists past the edge of space are poised to take off in 2012, and getting a seat on one is not all that different from booking a trip someplace on Earth. You can sign up on the website of, say, Virgin Galactic, the most prominent of the new space tourism companies, or go to a travel agent and put down a hefty deposit. Soon you will be able to buy travel insurance, just as you can for any other vacation.

Until now, space tourism has been limited to the ultrawealthy: Just seven people have paid tens of millions of dollars for a trip to the International Space Station aboard a Russian rocket. But that could change this year, when Virgin Galactic intends to start offering flights just beyond the space barrier on a rocket ship it has built, featuring five minutes of weightlessness during a 2 1/2-hour jaunt. At $200,000 a seat, this will open the final frontier to far more people.

“Hopefully by next Christmas, myself, my daughter and my son will be the first people to go up into space,” Richard Branson, the owner of Virgin Galactic, said in a videotaped interview in November (with a touch of his signature grandiosity).

At least two other specialty airlines have jumped in as well, taking reservations (and deposits) for future space flights.

Allianz, the big insurer, will introduce an insurance product in 2012, lending space tourism the trappings of the regular travel industry.

“Just to be able to sell space travel as a regular part of your business, really, just how cool is that?” said Lynda Turley Garrett, president of Alpine Travel of Saratoga, Calif., who is one of 58 accredited space agents for Virgin Galactic in the United States.


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