Virgin Galactic's inaugural flight will be broadcast on NBC

Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie will host on live television SpaceShipTwo's first space flight with passengers. Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and his two adult children will be aboard the supersonic craft.

Reed Saxon/AP
British entrepreneur Richard Branson announced that his space tourism venture, Virgin Galactic, has signed a deal with NBC to his spaceship's inaugural flight broadcast on live television.

Virgin Galactic announced on Friday that it had selected NBC to broadcast the space tourism company’s first commercial space flight next year. Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson, as well as his two adult children, Holly and Sam, will be the first tourists to visit space aboard the company’s supersonic spaceship, SpaceShipTwo.

NBC News' Peacock Productions said that it plans to chart SpaceShipTwo’s progress toward commercial readiness in broadcasts throughout the coming months on several NBCUniversal platforms, including Syfy and The Weather Channel. The series will conclude with a three-hour special on NBC’s “Today” show, hosted by Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie.

The broadcast is scheduled for August 2014, but could be delayed depending on the outcome of this month’s third rocket-boosted test flight for SpaceShipTwo.

“Without a doubt, Sir Richard and his children taking the first commercial flight into space will go down in history as one of the most memorable events on television,” said Sharon Scott, President and General Manager, Peacock Productions, in a statement.

To followers of Virgin Galactic and its parade of promotions for stylish suborbital tourism, the company’s forthcoming debut on national television will come as little surprise.

Space tourism is not quite new, as several people have paid tens of millions to visit the International Space Station. But it has never before been a business, as Sir Richard, Forbes’ 272nd richest person in the world, hopes to make it. As a business – and one marketed just toward the richest of the rich, no less – it has furnished a lofty advertising campaign.

Seven years after SpaceShipTwo’s prototype made a successful test flight, Virgin Galactic has announced a reality T.V. show, “Space Race,” put out videos as dramatic and fantastic, if less alarming, as promos for the movie “Gravity,” and christened its ship “the sexiest ship ever.” Champagne bottles have been whapped against SpaceShipTwo’s gleaming nose. The company has sold $250,000 tickets to Justin Bieber, Ashton Kutcher, and it-couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Ticket holders belong to “perhaps the world’s most exclusive club,” as Virgin Galactic puts it.

It has also acquired a pop star. This week, US Weekly reported that Lady Gaga has booked a ride for her and her entourage, or “glam squad,” in SpaceShipTwo sometime in 2015 and will sing one of her tracks aboard the craft (the announcement comes just days after the release of her somewhat space-themed song, “Venus"). This is expected to present some challenges for the singer.

In a video released in September of the spaceship’s second rocket-powered test flight, the two pilots strained to even count down the seconds as the ship boomed at a speed of Mach 1.43 to about 69,000 feet above the Mojave Desert. When the ship is market-ready, the peak altitude will be at least 367,442 feet, where the World Air Sports Federation defines space as beginning.

"She has to do a month of vocal training because of the atmosphere," an anonymous source told US Weekly.

The source also said that the performance will be part of an as of yet unannounced three-day musical festival, called Zero G Colony, at Spaceport America, the planned hub for space tourism. Lady Gaga’s festival will be at sunrise on the last day of the festival, the source said.

If all goes well, Lady Gaga could be the first artist to sing in space. This means that her songs could be possible aliens’ first exposure to Earth’s “traditional ballads,” as aliens in Doctor Who refer to Brittney Spears’ songs some 5 billion years in the future. 

Virgin Galactic is not alone in its vie for deep-pocketed space tourists. Last month, a new commercial space outlet, World View, announced plans to sell trips, at $75,000 a seat, to the middle of the stratosphere. Tickets holders will ride to 19 miles above the Earth aboard a capsule tethered to an enormous helium balloon. 

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