Holiday trips into space could begin in just two years times, according to America’s travel chief.
Transport secretary Norman Mineta told space entrepreneurs that his department will be ready to issue permits for passenger flights by 2008.
And test flights will be allowed to begin next year.
Several private companies are building spacecraft to fly super-rich tourists above the atmosphere.
They include Sir Richard Branson whose Virgin Galactic company will operate from a purpose-built spaceport in New Mexico.
More than 50 wannabe astronauts have already each paid Virgin a $20,000 (£11,000) deposit for the trip of a lifetime. Branson says he will be ready by 2008.
Virgin has ordered a fleet of five spacecraft following the successful flights of SpaceShipOne last year from the Mojave Desert in California.
Mr Mineta told a commercial space conference in Washington his timeline was not based on science fiction.
He said: “It is a timeline based on the reality of where commercial space is today and where we expect the state of commercial space to be within two short years.”
“We will move quickly to green-light flights that we know are safe.”
America’s Federal Aviation Authority is already drawing up strict new rules – including guarding against terrorism – to protect passengers on the first sight-seeing space trips.
© Paul Sutherland. Unauthorised reproduction forbidden.