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Saturday, 3 March, 2001, 22:56 GMT
Rocket couple book space ride
Steve Bennett's rocket breaks sound barrier
Bennett has launched several successful rockets
Two British citizens have paid 250,000 hoping for a trip into space.

The two people, aged 50 and 40, hope to remain anonymous so they do not have to explain their flight of fancy to their family.

Steve Bennett
Steve Bennett
Their purchase was revealed by the private rocketeer who sold them the seats. Steve Bennett plans to pilot the couple on a mission he is putting together for 2003.

Mr Bennett believes he is well on the way to developing the technology needed to take a manned rocket 100 kilometres up from the Earth's surface and bring it back safely.

If the journey is a success, Mr Bennett could find himself $10m (7.7m) richer. A US-based organisation is running a competition known as the X-Prize. It will give a multi-million-dollar award to the first non-governmental group or individual that can take three people into space.

More seats

The rocket must complete the journey twice, which means Mr Bennett still has other seats available. The next one is on sale for 500,000.

"We have had quite a lot of interest in it," said Mr Bennett from Dukinfield, Greater Manchester. "But so far, no-one has put up the cash."

They know the risk. I am willing to take the risk. I am flying with them, and I have a beautiful family I want to come back to

Steve Bennett
The two people have invested a further 250,000 into Mr Bennett's project after hearing about it on the Discovery Channel. The station is sponsoring the mission along with Microsoft and others.

"They know the risk," Mr Bennett said. "I am willing to take the risk. I am flying with them, and I have a beautiful family I want to come back to. I think they are happier that I am flying with them," said Mr Bennett.

"It has always been a vision, it's not just a pipe dream. I have always had a sense of purpose but in these last few months I have been able to demonstrate that I can follow it through," added Mr Bennett, whose love of rocketry was inspired by the 1960s TV series Thunderbirds.

Successful launches

The private rocketeer and his team of 40 have had several successful unmanned launches in recent years - and one or two spectacular failures, too.

The successful launches have proved "it's not just Steve working in his back shed anymore," said Mr Bennett.

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He is managing director of an aerospace company based in east Manchester, and the company launched its first rocket in August 1999. Mr Bennett first launched a rocket in Cheshire in 1993.

His company has 6 full-time staff and 38 part-time employees.

Mr Bennett is confident his new Thunderbird rocket will win the X-prize by August 2003.

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