A franchise is a store or restaurant, like The Gap orKentucky Fried Chicken, that you can find in every town inthe U.S. and often abroad as well. Now space pioneer BurtRutan says travel agents that can book you on a space travelvacation will soon be just as common as fast-foodfranchises. He plans to build spacecraft with large cabins,where you can walk around, just like you can in a conventionalairplane (once the initial take-off is completed), withlarge windows through which passengers can get anastronaut-style view the receding Earth, the moon andperhaps even some nearby planets. Passengers will floataround the cabin during 4 or 5 minutes of weightlessness.

Kelly Young writes in New Scientist that Rutan’s company,Scaled Composites, has been hired to build 5 spaceships forVirgin Galactic, a division of Virgin Airlines. Rutan sees thefuture of space travel as just another version ofMcDonald’s, with a tourist operator who arranges these tripsin every mall.

In the first year, he says he can book trips for 500 people–adecade after that, the number could reach 100,000. Spacetravel will no longer be just for astronauts or the super rich.

But Rutan thinks excessive government regulation may end thepersonal space flight industry before it gets started. InFebruary, 2005, the FAA issued strict guidelines for spacetourism, which don’t bode well for the future.

Elon Musk, CEO of Space Exploration Technologies, isplanning to build small, reusable spacecraft called Falcon 1and Falcon 5 to ferry tourists into space. He also complainsabout too much government regulation.

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