Despite the fact that F1 cars reach speeds in excess of 300km/h fairly routinely, some race car drivers are always looking for something more extreme. Take former F1 driver Niki Lauda, for example. The three-time world champion has revealed that he plans to become an astronaut.

Lauda announced today that he will be working with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic project, which hopes to make space tourism the next big thing in the near future. But Lauda won't simply be a passenger strapped into a spaceship, like most other people involved with the project, but rather he hopes to be piloting one of the Virgin Galactic shuttles.

Additionally, Brawn driver Rubens Barrichello has also showed a significant amount of interest in the project and has already coughed up the requisite $200,000 for his ticket into space, although unlike Lauda he doesn't yet have designs on taking the helm.

While it may seem like a big stretch to go from F1 to commanding a space shuttle, Lauda does already have a significant amount of piloting experience. The former champ has owned planes since the 1970s and has been flying professionally for many years.

The U.S.-based Virgin Galactic is one of several contenders in a new commercial space race, which will see the project launch specially designed shuttles that are launched from conventional carrier planes. The shuttles are designed to take two pilots and six passengers on a brief sub-orbital journey.

Speaking with Reuters, Virgin boss Branson said he hopes to eventually build a "spaceport" in the U.S. (located in New Mexico) as well as the Middle East and Australia. The first shuttle is expected to be completed by the end of the year before undergoing 18 months of testing.