Virgin Galactic opens runway to the stars

Virgin Galactic has opened its first spaceway, a 2-mile of strip of concrete and asphalt that will take you to infinity -- and beyond!

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
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Virgin Galactic has opened its first runway to the stars. The spaceway, a purpose-built 2-mile runway for spacecraft, was opened by Richard Branson this week. It's located at Virgin Galactic's Spaceport America base near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico -- a spa town that named itself after a game show in 1950 so the show would be aired there.

The runway is offically named Governor Bill Richardson Spaceway after the NM state governor. It's 42 inches thick, consisting of 24 inches of prepared sub-grade, 4 inches of asphalt and a 14-inch layer of concrete. It's specially designed for the two WhiteKnightTwo motherships Virgin Galactic will house on the site, as well as the five SpaceShipTwo craft they will carry into space, among other space launch and training vehicles.

Earlier this month, the first SpaceShipTwo -- the VSS Enterprise -- practised landing with its first manned flight, piggy-backing on the mothership VMS Eve before returning to land at Mojave in California. The new purpose-built spaceway will allow the mothership to take off from the dedicated spaceport in New Mexico, bearing the spacecraft, its six passengers and two crew members to the heavens. The tourist ship will then be released to nip into space for a five-minute weightless pootle about, before gliding back to terra firma.

Nearly 400 intrepid star trekkers have laid down the £128,000 spacepounds required to blast off on the three-hour astral round trip. Virgin could be announcing lift-off as early as 18 months from now. Of course, Crave has already been there: our own space ace Rory 'Rocket' Reid sent a lucky CNET UK reader into space in 2008.

Location-based social networking app Foursquare entered the space race this week, when International Space Station Commander Doug Wheelock checked in to the service from 200 miles above the earth's surface, unlocking the specially created NASA Explorer Badge. Other location services will no doubt follow suit -- which means we'll have to send him to outer space to sign in on Facebook Places.