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Space adventurers race to get aboard Virgin ship

Long list of astronaut wannabes includes one with a distinguished resume: "Star Trek" honcho Willam Shatner.

Fueled by a desire to travel into space, millions of starry-eyed Web surfers are flocking to the Virgin Galactic space travel site.

Since its debut two weeks ago, approximately 7.5 million people have visited the Web site of Virgin Galactic, a space travel venture founded by British airline and entertainment magnate Sir Richard Branson. Around 3,500 of those visitors said they are willing to pay a deposit as soon as flights are available, said Will Whitehorn, a Virgin spokesman.

"Demand is going extraordinarily well since our Sept. 28 launch. We've had twice the number of people visit our Web site than we expected," Whitehorn said.

Would-be astronauts also have shown up at Virgin's London office with checks in hand, he added. The cost for the two-hour flight, five minutes of which will be spent weightless, hovering above Earth, is approximately $190,000.

"We had about 185 people come to our office. One of them was Trevor Beattie, creative director for TBWA. That's one of the largest advertising agencies in the United Kingdom. He showed up at our office with a check, and we said we weren't accepting checks yet," Whitehorn said.

Beattie, known for his controversial advertising campaigns such as FCUK for retailer French Connection in the United Kingdom, flew to the Mojave for the second Ansari X Prize, where he met with Branson and the team for SpaceShipOne, which blasted into space from the desert floor.

There, the relentless Beattie gave Branson his check for a ride on Virgin Galactic's VSS Enterprise, once it begins flights in 2007.

Other celebrities also made flight requests while attending the Ansari X Prize competition. Former Kiss singer Gene Simmons expressed his desire to blast into space, as did Star Trek actor William Shatner.

Other interested parties who filled out the online registration form and expressed a willingness to plunk down a deposit included chief executives, entrepreneurs and folks just looking to fulfill a lifelong dream to travel to space, Whitehorn said.

"Seventy-eight percent of the registrants were from the U.S., with the rest split evenly among England, Germany, Japan and Australia," he added. "And the gender, as far as we could tell, was 58 percent male, which was less skewed than I expected."

The age range of interested space travelers also was quite wide--from people in their 20s to 60s.

Whitehorn noted that visitors to the Web site were informed they needed to be in good health in order to take the trip.

While details have yet to be finalized, space tourist will undergo six days of medical preparation, G-tolerance training, talks with space experts and simulator training.

On the actual flight day, the Virgin Galactic aircraft will travel down a runway, rather than a launch pad for a two-hour flight.

After the larger aircraft reaches 10 miles above sea level, the smaller VSS Enterprise will blast off from the mother ship, hurtling into space at a speed faster than a bullet.

Once the VSS Enterprise enters space, the motor will idle and the weightless vessel will float in space for five minutes before returning to earth like a glider.