Kutcher to launch as space tourist

ALBUQUERQUE – British billionaire Richard Branson said Monday his venture to launch paying tourists into space has netted its 500th customer, and it’s none other than Ashton Kutcher.

Branson made the announcement on his blog, saying he gave the actor a quick call to congratulate him.

“He is as thrilled as we are at the prospect of being among the first to cross the final frontier (and back!) with us and to experience the magic of space for himself,” Branson wrote.

A representative for Kutcher did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Kutcher is among dozens of Hollywood stars, international entrepreneurs, scientists, space buffs and others who have made deposits to be among the first to reach the edge of the Earth on Branson’s Virgin Galactic space line.

Branson has said the aim is to one day make traveling to space safe and affordable for the masses, not just those who can afford the current $200,000 ticket price.

Virgin Galactic is in the final stages of its test flight program. The company will launch its spacecraft from Spaceport America, a specially designed terminal and runway built in a remote stretch of desert in southern New Mexico.

The company plans to begin commercial operations next year. Branson said he and his children plan to be on the first commercial flight.