When Can I Boldly Goto Outer Space? ASK FRANK

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dream is to take a flight into space. After an initial flurry of publicity about space tourism - I believe Sir Richard Branson was involved in one plan - the whole thing seems to have gone quiet.

Given America's reluctance to countenance anything which carries a risk of being sued, I doubt space tourism will ever happen across the Atlantic. What are the chances in Russia or China - and would it be safe? Shall I just keep dreaming?

'Major Tom', by email GIVEN the inherent problems and potential risks of space travel, it would be rather worrying if things went over-hastily!

But it is going ahead. This month US Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said the first space tourist flights could be operating from the US by 2008.

He expects to issue permits for test flights next year after which licences for passenger space travel could be issued.

Sir Richard Branson says his space tourism venture Virgin Galactic (www.virgingalactic.

com/en/) remains 'well on track'. He believes that in 2008 Virgin will be the first operator to send paying passengers into space to experience weightlessness.

The firm has invested more than [pounds sterling]57million in the project, to be based in California's Mojave Desert. Sir Richard says 50,000 people have registered their interest in taking a trip into space.

Each passenger will pay [pounds sterling]115,000 for the two-and-ahalfhour flight and experience six minutes of weightlessness.

They will spend three-andahalf days learning about being in space as part of the package.

The names of the 100 people who have already pledged their [pounds sterling]115,000 fee will be put in a hat to decide who flies first.

However, Sir Richard said he, his children and his parents will be taking their places on the first launch. …