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Local Travel Agent Can Send You Into Space

Posted January 26, 2008
Updated January 27, 2008

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— Tony Maupin says he's had a long-running desire to fly into space, but now he's spending his days arranging for others to make the trip.

The Raleigh-based travel agent is among approximately 45 agents in the U.S. and 100 worldwide getting certified to sell seats on SpaceShipTwo, the craft developed by British billionaire Richard Branson's commercial space travel company, Virgin Galactic.

A model of SpaceShipTwo was unveiled Wednesday at a New York news conference with Branson and the craft's designer, Burt Rutan. A working prototype is expected to be in test flights this summer, and commercial flights could begin in two years.

The 60-year-old Maupin talks about space travel with conviction, even if it will cost $200,000 for 2 hours. He predicts that in 10 years, 50,000 people will have flown into space.

"I've wanted to go into space ever since I was a kid," Maupin said.

Maupin promoted the safety of a trip into space.

"If anything does happen, if the engine doesn't work, you just glide back down to Earth," he said. "It's extremely safe, probably safer than you and I getting in our car and driving to the beach."

The closest Maupin has come so far was three days this week at a flight-training facility in Pennsylvania, where he and other space-agents-in-training were strapped into a centrifuge to see what 3.5G's feels like.

"It's like a fast elevator," he said.

Aside from being able to tell clients he spent part of last weekend in a weightless environment, Maupin sees space travel as a way to expand the mind.

"All travel has that power," Maupin said, whether it's a world cruise, a mission trip to Louisiana or an afternoon hike in Umstead State Park.

Maupin said he did not travel much growing up. He recalls trips to Kitty Hawk, where he went to the Wright Brothers National Memorial and dreamed of taking wing. The Apollo missions in the 1960s left a deep impression.

For now, Maupin and his wife will travel over a rain forest in Costa Rica in zip lines.

"The joy of travel is removing yourself from your world and immersing yourself in another," he said.

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