Paying space travelers could be lifting off from the United States by 2008, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta says.

He told a group of space entrepreneurs Thursday that he expects to issue permits for test flights next year. If those are successful, licenses for passenger space travel could then be issued.

"This timeline isn't based on science fiction," Mineta said, adding that it's based on where he expects the state of commercial space to be in two years.

There have already been three space tourists who have hitched rides on Russian Soyuz spaceships to the international space station. Each paid $20 million.