The world got its first glance at what commercial space travel will look like on Thursday, and it's a significant upgrade from the arduous trip through today's airports.
Virgin Galactic welcomed members of the press into its newly completed mission control, briefing room and ground-floor Gaia lounge. Gaia is centered on a posh marble and oak "Barista Island" where space tourists, their friends and family will mingle with VG employees and pilots over breakfast and coffee as they contemplate cutting the tether of Earth's gravity for the first time.
Upstairs and overlooking Gaia and the runway is the Cirrus level, home to mission control, the mission briefing room and the pilot corps.
VG's operation is housed inside the Gateway to Space building, a futuristic facade that looks something like an alien spaceship itself. The building is the centerpiece of New Mexico's Spaceport America, a state-owned facility that has been quietly waiting for several years in the empty desert next to the White Sands Missile Range for Virgin Galactic to finally move in.
"We are graduating the facility into commercial service," said VG CEO George Whitesides. "We want to have this be a remarkable historic facility that when people arrive at they feel, 'Yes, this is the place that I'm going to be going to space from.'"
Virgin owner and billionaire mogul Richard Branson announced that his company was ready to "come home" to New Mexico at a press conference with Gov. Michelle Lujan-Grisham and Sen. Tom Udall in Santa Fe in May.
With the unveiling of its new interior, Virgin Galactic says Spaceport America's Gateway to Space "is now functionally operational."
As part of its move to New Mexico, the Virgin Galactic launch vehicle VMS Eve recently landed at the Spaceport, which it will call home from now on.
The company says the remainder of its test flight program, which has largely been conducted in California's Mojave Desert until now, will take place at Spaceport America in preparation for its first commercial flights to space in the coming months.