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AP: Private Rocket Unofficially Reaches Space

Published by Cathleen Manville on Wed Sep 29, 2004 5:24 pm
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MOJAVE, Calif. Sept. 29, 2004 — After recovering from a wild corkscrew roll on its ascent, the first private manned rocket soared to space and returned safely to Earth on Wednesday in a bid to earn a $10 million prize.
SpaceShipOne, with astronaut Michael Melvill at the controls, climbed to an unofficial altitude of more than 330,000 feet, about 2,000 feet above its target altitude of 62 miles.

Dick Rutan, whose brother Burt Rutan helped design the ship, said radar indicated that the plane reached its target.

“They made the altitude,” he said.

Confirmation on whether it reached the desired altitude was expected later in the day.

The specially designed jet with SpaceShipOne under its belly took off at 7:12 a.m. from the airport in the desert north of Los Angeles and began its climb. The ship dropped away from its mother ship above Mojave Airport, fired its rocket and pulled into a vertical climb. The ship rolled more than two dozen times before steadying to its target altitude. It then began a gliding descent and landed at 8:33 a.m.

A crowd of VIPs watched from below the airport control tower, while journalists watched from bleachers along the runway. Spectators, some wrapped in blankets to ward off the early morning chills, erupted in cheers as the spacecraft and its chase planes taxied down the runway.

SpaceShipOne is trying for the $10 million X Prize, offered to whomever makes two flights 62 miles high, an altitude generally accepted as being in space, in two weeks or less.

The ship already reached that height during the SpaceShipOne’s first flight in June, when history was on the line. Now it’s about the money. Melvill also was the pilot in June.

Among those watching Wednesday’s launch was Adam Smith, 14, of Vienna, Va., who said he’s had an interest in space “as far back as I can remember.” He earned $1,000 this summer toward a down payment to a company called Space Adventures, which is taking reservations for future space travel.

“It was just one of those things I want to do this,” the 9th-grader said.

The X Prize rules require that the two flights happen within 14 days. Before Wednesday’s takeoff, SpaceShipOne’s creators had ambitiously set the second flight for next Monday well before the 14-day deadline.

SpaceShipOne was required to fly with a pilot and the equivalent weight of two passengers aboard, in accordance with rules requiring X Prize contenders to be capable of carrying three people.

Maverick aerospace designer Burt Rutan, with more than $20 million from Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, secretly developed SpaceShipOne and is well ahead of two dozen teams building other X Prize contenders around the world.

The Ansari X Prize was modeled after the $25,000 prize that Charles Lindbergh won in his Spirit of St. Louis for the first solo New York-to-Paris flight across the Atlantic in 1927.

The St. Louis-based X Prize Foundation, noting the rapid development of air travel after Lindbergh’s feat, hopes to inspire an era of space tourism in which spaceflight is not just the domain of government agencies such as NASA.

Even before Wednesday’s flight, Richard Branson, the airline mogul and adventurer, announced in London on Monday that his Virgin Group plans to offer passenger flight into space aboard rockets based on SpaceShipOne by 2007.

Branson believes he will fly some 3,000 people into space in the first five years that his “Virgin Galactic” space line is operating.

Space.com: Tense Moments During Trailblazing Private Space Flight
Space.com: Full SpaceShipOne Coverage

BBC.com: X-Prize craft ‘passes first flight’
CNN.com: SpaceShipOne lands after heart-stopping ride
FloridaToday.com: SpaceShipOne lands safely after scary tumble
SpaceDaily.com: SpaceShipOne Completes First Of Two X Prize Flights
UniverseToday.com: Halfway There: SpaceShipOne Hits Space Again

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