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Tonga Space Program

Headed to the South Pacific?Why not make a detour to outer space along the way?Five months ago, Interorbital Systems, an aerospace company based in Mojave, California, began taking reservations for rides in its Neptune Orbital Spaceliner, set to launch in 2005 from the tiny island nation of Tonga.

For $2 million apiece (a bargain compared to the $20 million reportedly paid by Dennis Tito last year), you and three other earth-weary travelers can orbit the planet for a week at speeds topping 17,500 mph, watching the sun rise and set every 90 minutes. At 150 miles up, the capsule, equipped with telescopes and hearty plant-based space food, will be at the same altitude as the International Space Station.

Tonga's 'Eua and Kalau islands, with no land for miles around, are ideal launch spots, not to mention a tropical paradise, says Interorbital Systems CEO Randa Relich Milliron: "We're offering the experience of traveling from one exotic locale to the most exotic locale imaginable." The company envisions itineraries that will include a resort stay on the island followed by one on the lunar surface. "We look at the moon and we see real estate," Milliron says. Interorbital's first space tourist will be Wally Funk, a 62-year-old former flight instructor who trained with the Mercury 13 astronauts. On the Tonga expedition, she'll finally make it to space.

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