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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Space Tourism Benefits All, Says EADS

PARIS -- Europe's leading space firm has defended plans for tourist rides in space after the European Union's industry chief slammed them as a gimmick for the rich.

European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. Astrium, the space division of the European aerospace group, said this week it planned to build a craft to carry people outside the earth's atmosphere from 2012 as long as they were prepared to pay up to 200,000 euros ($268,000) per ticket.

The idea was panned by European Commission Vice President Guenter Verheugen who said this "very privileged type of tourism" was only for the super rich and deserved no support.

But speaking with passion about the project at a briefing on Friday, ahead of next week's Paris Air Show, EADS Astrium chief executive Francois Auque refused to be deterred.

"The argument that you are working for the rich and beautiful and wealthy is completely incorrect, because our objective is to use the money of the rich to develop technologies that could be useful for everybody," he said. "Space tourism is the cherry on the cake."

Details of the briefing were embargoed for Saturday.

One spin-off could be quicker development of hyper-sonic long-distance travel in conventional planes, a spokesman said.

The EADS aircraft, about the size of an executive jet, would be able to carry four passengers around 100 kilometers from the earth, where they would be able to experience about three minutes of weightlessness and see the earth's curve.

A rocket engine based on the upper stage of an Ariane launcher, will expose the passengers to three times the force of gravity. That is about the same as some of the world's more adventurous roller-coasters, EADS officials said.