Blast Off! Norman Foster Unveils His Launchpad for Richard Branson's $200,000-a-Flight Virgin Galactic Spaceline

Briefly rivaling Burning Man's desert revelry, Richard Branson celebrated the opening of his Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space, the world's first commercial space terminal and a truly other-wordly design by Norman Foster.

The building, which will serve as the launchpad for flights on Branson's spaceline, Virgin Galactic, echoes its surroundings in the New Mexican desert. At first glance, it resembles a rise in the like-colored landscape, while at other angles, its horseshoe crab-like shape evokes scenes from "Star Trek."

Aiming to make minimal impact on the surrounding environment, the low-rise structure sits partly in the ground, buffering the extremes of the local climate and maximizing ventilation from westerly winds. Natural light is captured through skylights, minimizing energy requirements in the hopes of achieving LEEDPlatinum accreditation. Visitors and astronauts enter the 120,000 square-foot spaceport through a channel cut into the landscape between the two wings, while the centrally-located hangar sits between the administrative offices to the west and flight training and preparation areas to the east.

More than 800 people had the opportunity to see the groundbreaking spaceport Wednesday at Branson's dedication ceremony in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he could be seen propelling down the building, champagne in hand, as Virgin Galactic vehicles WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo flew demonstrations overhead. Currently, 450 people worldwide have registered for voyages on the spaceline, with tickets starting at $200,000 a passenger.