The year is still nascent, but 2012 may go down in history as the year space tourism finally took flight. This year Virgin Galactic will finally begin launching its much-ballyhooed jaunts into space, the New York Times reports, opening up the heavens to the non-billionaire set. Granted, you’ll still need to be pretty well heeled to afford the $200,000 flight, but that’s a far cry from the tens of millions that tickets aboard Russia’s capsules cost—a price only seven people have paid.
By contrast, 475 have reserved seats with Virgin. The flights will be brief, sub-orbital affairs, inching just above the 62-mile boundary between Earth and space, and giving participants five minutes of weightlessness. “You’ll be able to unbuckle, move about the cabin, do somersaults, get your picture taken with the Earth’s curvature in the background,” says one booking agent. Participants will also spend three days at Virgin’s Spaceport America in New Mexico, both to train and relax: “Typical Virgin, there’ll be parties going on,” she says. And Virgin’s not the only game in town—two other companies are also taking reservations, and another is offering that vacation linchpin: traveler’s insurance. (Read more Virgin Galactic stories.)