30 JULY 2008

When Sir Richard Branson launched his latest venture - a space tourism programme - he used the occasion to pay tribute to his mum. On Tuesday in California's Mojave desert the colourful tycoon unveiled a giant spacecraft named in her honour.

In 18 months WhiteKnightTwo Eve should be ready to blast passengers paying £100,000 each into the heavens.

The new jet will act as a mothership, cradling a lighter plane carrying the crew and tourists which will be released at 50,000 feet. Once separated, the vessel, known simply as SpaceShipTwo, will fire its rocket and climb 62 miles above Earth.

Physicist Stephen Hawking and former Dallas star Victoria Principal are among the celebrity space travellers who've already booked their seats to go into orbit.

Photo: ©
In a gush of champagne Eve Branson became the first woman to have a commercial spacecraft named after her when her entrepreneur son Richard christened his new plane WhiteKnightTwo EvePhoto: © Rex
Photo: ©
The tycoon, seen here with Eve and dad Edward, will welcome the first passengers on his space tourism programme in 18 months. "I wanted to go to space, but when I realised it wasn't possible I built my own spacecraft," he explainsPhoto: © Rex
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