SARATOGA (CBS SF) — As a Bay Area luxury travel agent for more than three decades, Lynda Turley Garrett never thought she’d be selling trips to outer space.

For the past five years, however, the president of Alpine Travel in Saratoga has been doing just that as an accredited space agent—one of five in the Bay Area.

Through Virgin Galactic, which has been testing rocket flights for spacecraft WhiteKniteTwo and SpaceShipTwo, Garrett has sold three tickets to future astronauts.

Although the date of lift-off for the craft, which can carry six passengers and two pilots, is uncertain Garrett said space travelers should expect the suborbital trip to blast off within the year or so.

In a historic moment for the future of private space travel, SpaceX Dragon successfully sent equipment to the International Space Station and returned back to earth Thursday.

Alexander Zwissler, executive director of Oakland’s Chabot Space and Science Center, called Thursday morning’s water landing in the Pacific Ocean an historic event and “just the beginning of the commercialization of space.”

The Hawthorne-based company SpaceX is headed by Elon Musk, who has supported the East Bay museum, and is working to take astronauts to the ISS now that the unmanned capsule delivered materials to the station, paving the way for future private travel.

Space travel provider Virgin Galactic has been ramping up efforts to send tourists to space, with more than 450 passengers already booked for the $200,000 flight, with a $20,000 deposit required up front, according to Garrett.

Although pricey, the deposit grants access to visit the spaceport in New Mexico; a meeting with Richard Branson, and the chance to see the progress of the spacecraft—alluring benefits for the future “astronauts.”

Branson, the head of Virgin Group, will be a passenger on the craft’s inaugural flight, once safety tests have been completed.

To become an agent booking clients for the 2.5-hour trip to space, Garrett had to apply to become a contractor, showing she could sell luxury travel and that she had a passion for galactic tourism.

“I pinch myself that I’m able to sell space travel,” Garrett said.

The travel agent plans to eventually join her clients and jet off on the spacecraft and was able to experience 6 g-force, or a strong, space-like gravitational force, on a flight simulator at the NASTAR Center in Philadelphia, which prepares astronauts for the journey.

Another Bay Area space agent Tony Cardoza, president of Cardoza-Bungey Travel in Palo Alto said he too is interested in making the suborbital flight.

He took over his mother’s travel agency when she died a few years ago and took on her work to send people into space. Two clients have signed on since through his agency.

Cardoza has been in training to prepare for selling space tickets and said there is the “feeling you are part of the next push into space.”

As to Garrett’s three clients ready for the out-of-this-world experience, weightlessness included, the agent said they are in their 20s, 40s, and 50s, with two from the Bay Area and another in Toronto.

Cardoza said his two clients, both women, are very different ages but have both been fascinated with space travel since a young age.

One of the oldest people who signed up for a flight through Virgin Galactic hails from Japan and is in her 80s, Garrett said.

Garrett believes “in our lifetime going to space is going to be as simple as taking a flight to Los Angeles,” although she admits that it currently is “hard for us to fathom.”

Cardoza sees those who are signing up as space tourists as pioneers, “making possible the next wave of space exploration.”

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


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