(CNN) -- It's unlikely that you've heard of PJ King, despite the fact that he's about to set himself apart from most humans who've ever walked the planet. In as soon as 18 months, King could be launching into space as a paying commercial space tourist.
King, a 41-year-old Irish businessman, is one of hundreds of travelers who've signed up and trained to be among the first paying passengers aboard Virgin Galactic's trips to suborbital space -- 62 miles above the Earth.
"One of the reasons I'm doing this is precisely because I want these things to be ordinary," King said. "Part of the problem with space travel is that it is special."
King believes the $200,000 he and other passengers pay for a seat on a Virgin Galactic spacecraft will help create a new future when "flights like this are happening every week, when lots of people go, and the cost has been massively reduced due to the economics of scale."
Prices are coming down, even before space tourism has started taking off.
Russia charges private travelers $40 million to ride on its Soyuz spacecraft and spend a few days aboard the international space station. For a much shorter journey, Virgin Galactic wants $200,000 for a flight to suborbital space. But Space Adventures advertises suborbital trips for about half that price: $102,000. King says he knows people who've taken out mortgages to buy their spacecraft tickets.
The plunging prices are opening doors to consumers who have been all but closed for half a century to everyone except "right stuff" supermen and superwomen with names like John Glenn, Neil Armstrong and Sally Ride.
"I believe in this," King said. "This is not a just a bunch of rich people going into space for fun."
About 360 paying passengers have signed up to be among Virgin Galactic's first travelers, CEO George Whitesides said. After the initial launches, he expects that number to grow to thousands and tens of thousands.
"That's a fundamental shift," he said. "A whole bunch of our major assumptions about space travel are undergoing a major shift."
This past year has seen important strides toward this shift. Washington licensed Jacksonville, Florida's Cecil Field as the nation's eighth non-government spaceport in January. New Mexico's Spaceport America, where Virgin Galactic plans to permanently base its space flights, completed a nearly 2-mile spacecraft runway this month.
Virgin Galactic test-flew its spacecraft Sunday.
A firm that arranges private space travel, Space Adventures, announced private partnerships this year with Boeing and Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace, a rocket development firm headed by John Carmack, the programmer-businessman behind the famed "Doom" video games.
Boeing: Come fly to space with us
King recalls the exact moment when he decided he wanted to go. When he was a youth in Ireland's countryside, far from city streetlights, the Milky Way laid out a virtual welcome mat for him.
"I remember thinking how strange it was that after man had conquered the moon, we appeared to have given up afterwards," said King, who built and sold his Clockworks International software company during the booming 1990s. "I think a lot of people imagined there would have been more progress in terms of space flight."
Virgin Galactic plans for each traveler to undergo a three-day pre-flight launch preparation program immediately before each mission. But many who've signed up, including King, have undergone centrifuge training to experience in-flight stresses stronger than gravity, known as G-forces.
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