Lift off! Sir Richard Branson opens world's first spaceport for tourists
The Virgin boss opened the new $209m terminal with his usual flamboyance, abseiling down its futuristic glass-panelled walls and swigging on fizzing Champagne as he went.
He was joined by Governor Susana Martinez, famous astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and hundreds of future space tourists for the opening.
Sir Richard's Virgin Galactic will stage its commercial space tourism venture from Spaceport America in a remote patch of desert in southern New Mexico.
The spaceport and mothership are both now completed, and Richard excitedly said: 'The building is absolutely magnificent. It is literally out of this world, and that's what we were aiming at creating.'
Virgin Galactic are now finalising its rocket testing, and says it hopes enough testing can be done by the end of 2012 to start commercial suborbital flights from the spaceport in 2013.
Sir Richard added: 'We're ticking the final boxes on the way to space.Today is another history-making day for Virgin Galactic. We are here with a group of incredible people who are helping us lead the way in creating one of the most important new industrial sectors of the 21st century. We've never wavered in our commitment to the monumental task of pioneering safe, affordable and clean access to space, or to demonstrate that we mean business at each step along the way.'
Branson and his children, Sam and Holly, who will be the first commercial passengers on SpaceShipTwo, brought the event to a spectacular conclusion by officially naming the world's first purpose-built spaceline terminal as the 'Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space'.
The new building features a two-mile concrete runway, and has taken six years to build. Virgin Galactic is hailing it as a 'green' building that uses geothermal energy.
Officials have hailed its completion as a huge milestone in bringing the reality of launching tourists into space all that much closer.
The flights will last two-and-a-half hours and will allow everyday people (albeit very rich ones) to experience about five minutes of weightlessness and views of Earth that until now only astronauts have been able to experience.