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Prepare for lift off, in 2008
Secretary of transportation says spaceships could be cleared to fly passengers into space by 2008.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) - Commercial spaceships could be cleared to carry passengers by 2008, the secretary of transportation said Thursday.

Speaking to a group of space entrepreneurs, Norman Mineta said that a number of companies should be set to take passengers into space and that the Department of Transportation would be ready to clear these flights within two years.

"This timeline isn't based on science fiction," Mineta said. "It is a timeline based on the reality of where commercial space is today and where we expect the state of commercial space to be within two short years."

Mineta noted that the DOT, which is responsible for clearing commercial space travel, would be ready to approve the passenger flights once tests of spaceships designed to take passengers into space were completed.

"We will move quickly to green-light flights that we know are safe," Mineta said. He added that if companies were able to complete testing sooner, the department also would be ready. "When the industry is set for lift off, we will be ready to launch," Mineta said.

Mineta made it clear that the DOT would take steps to ensure the safety of these commercial passenger space flights. But added that the agency would make sure these checks did not delay the launch of passenger space travel.

"We have an important role to play in ensuring the safety of commercial space flights, especially for passengers," Mineta said. "But we also have an obligation to encourage innovation and support new developments."

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