Ashton Kutcher has signed up for a trip into space with Virgin Galactic. Kutcher is the 500th person to sign up with the commercial spaceline.
Kutcher, an actor currently starring in the hit US sitcom Two and a Half Men, is reported to be thrilled at the prospect of his trip to space.
Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group of companies, announced the news on Twitter and telephoned Kutcher to congratulate him.
"Virgin Galactic is the most exciting business that we've ever launched and I still sometimes have to pinch myself that it's for real. Ashton is joining a fast expanding group of true pioneers who are on their way to a life changing experience and a place in the history books. It's great to have him on board" said Branson on his blog.
Kutcher will share his journey to space with five other astronauts as the spaceship rockets at almost 2,500mph to about 100km above Earth. One of the highlights Kutcher can look forward to will be experiencing the weightlessness of 'zero' gravity.
"We are delighted to have Ashton on board as our 500th customer, and look forward to flying him to space as soon as possible" Virgin Galactic told Sen.
The test programme for Virgin Galactic began in late 2008 and the spaceline hopes to complete the first powered test flight to space by the end of 2012. The first commercial flights are subject to the test programme and will probably begin in 2013. Branson and his children are scheduled to fly on the first official flight.
SpaceShipTwo is piloted by two professional astronauts and can carry six passengers. The spacecraft has been designed to reach an altitude of at least 100km (62 miles) from where the astronauts will see the curvature of Earth from the darkness of space and experience several minutes of zero-gravity before coasting back to Earth.
How Virgin Galactic will take you into space
Virgin Galactic's spacecraft consists of a launch craft (mothership) known as "WhiteKnightTwo" and a rocket ship "SpaceShipTwo". SpaceShipTwo is attached to the mothership which will take off horizontally and attain an altitude of about 50,000 feet before releasing SpaceShipTwo. SpaceShipTwo’s rocket will then be ignited and propel the craft with its 2 professional astronauts and 6 paying passengers, to an altitude of about 100km (62 miles, 360,000 feet).
Space is defined by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale as being 100km.
Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo being carried by WhiteKnightTwo during a test flight in 2011. Credit: Mark Greenburg
Read a full analysis of Virgin Galactic here
Virgin Galactic’s first launch ship has been christened VMS Eve after Branson’s mother and the first SpaceShipTwo has been named VSS Enterprise.
The flights will operate from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Apart from carrying space tourists into sub-orbital space, scientists will be taking advantage of the spacecraft’s low cost and re-usability to launch experiments into space. In fact, Virgin has already secured a contract with U.S. space agency NASA to do just that.