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The Final Frontier: Richmond Agent Sells Space Travel 

click to enlarge joshua_bush100.jpg

There's a very short list of earthlings who can claim space travel as a tax write-off. And though not yet ready to defend his deduction to the IRS, Richmond's Joshua Bush may be among the elite few who can claim blast-off as a business expense.

Bush, business development director at his family's Pennsylvania-based Park Avenue Travel, was selected this month as one of 42 travel agents in the country allowed to book trips on Richard Branson's new Virgin Galactic near-space rocket plane.

For $200,000, space travelers who buy tickets through Bush must undergo two or three days of astronaut training at a New Mexico spaceport and a "few hours" from launch to land onboard a spaceship, Bush says.

Included are an estimated eight to 10 minutes in space, weightless as the ship reaches the apex of its trajectory — 70 miles above the planet. After riders brave a 5G atmospheric reentry and finish kissing the landing tarmac, they'll receive what few people outside of NASA have, a set of official astronaut wings.

It's just the sort of holiday trophy many of his clients would love to boast, says Bush, whose agency specializes in high-end experiential travel for the rich: "They want to be able to say at a cocktail party when someone says, 'Well I just got back from India,' to say, 'Well, I just got back from space.'"

The travel package went from science fiction to fact after pioneering pilot Burt Rutan flew his SpaceShipOne in 2004, winning the Ansari X Prize for the first privately built manned craft to make repeated space trips. Within weeks, he'd announced a partnership with British business mogul Branson to make space a vacation destination. The first trips are expected to launch in 2009, according to Virgin Galactic's Web site.

Though Branson's admission price may remain cost-prohibitive for most common folk — candlestick-makers, travel agents, reporters — it's a far cry from the $22 million tab for a private ride on a Russian Soyuz capsule, Bush says.

"It might not be affordable to you and me," he says, describing his likely customer as a well-to-do, but not necessarily filthy rich."

Though not yet able to book flights — that comes after intensive training at Virgin Galactic in such non-travel-agent courses as astrophysics — Bush says he already has a list of prospective clients who've voiced interest in getting seats on SpaceShipTwo. (He declines to reveal who's on it.)

Bush says he eventually hopes to do what former N'Sync-singer-cum-cosmonaut-dropout Lance Bass missed. "I've set aside my own piggybank to save," he says. S

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