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Unlike experimental programs run by NASA, Wilson said Spaceport America and Virgin Galactic are based on business models and investments.

“Obviously safety has to be at the highest level, especially when you’re talking about commercial passenger service,” he said.

Branson announced last week that Virgin Galactic had netted its 500th customer, actor Ashton Kutcher. Others include Hollywood types, international entrepreneurs, scientists and space buffs.

At $200,000 a ticket, the space tourists get a 2 1/2-hour flight with about five minutes of weightlessness and views of Earth that until now only astronauts have been able to experience.

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