To the Moon, Alice, to the Moon

I know many people who save up their frequent flyer miles for something special, a “big trip” to somewhere. But a trip to the moon? That’s thinking big. Really big. Recently, Virgin Atlantic Airways formed a new subsidiary called Virgin Galactic. The company will provide commercial flights to the moon beginning in 2009. Tickets cost $200,000 each. (I wonder if they’ll ever offer one-way fares.)

Several hundred tickets have already been sold, and one has to imagine that Virgin Galactic will be booked well past the inaugural flight that’s three years away.

The Virgin Galactic spacecraft remains in production and will be designated SpaceShipTwo, a nod to Burt Rutan, one of the spacecraft’s designers. Rutan also designed SpaceShipOne, the first privately owned spacecraft to reach suborbital space, for which it won the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

SpaceShipTwo will carry eight people, including a crew of two. The space aircraft will be flown into launch position at an altitude of 60,000 feet by a much larger carrier aircraft named WhiteKnightTwo. Total flight time is expected to last 2.5 hours and the spacecraft will reach a maximum altitude of 68 miles above Earth. During flight, the passengers will be allowed to unbuckle from their seats and enjoy several minutes of weightlessness.

In keeping with Virgin Atlantic Airways luxurious amenities, the spacecraft will feature personal spacesuits and plushy seats that will recline to the horizontal position once they reach suborbital space. Virgin Galactic expects to test fly the completed spacecraft in 2007.

So, just how many frequent flyer miles do you need for a roundtrip flight to the moon? Try 2 million miles. Before you say that no one has that many frequent flyer miles, you should know that a man named Alan Watts does have that many, and he’ll be one of Galactic’s first moon-flight passengers.