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07/27/2004 Archived Entry: "Revisiting the flight of SpaceShipOne"
REVISITING THE FLIGHT OF SPACESHIPONE. This doesn't qualify as news any more. But in a week that contains the usual barrage of Big Brotherism plus an overdose of Democrats, it helps to lift the heart once again. Young Jac and his sister Kathryn were there in the desert on the morning that free men escaped Earth for the first time & they wrote this report.
The Flight of SpaceShipOne
By Jac and Kathryn
Monday, June 21st, saw the launch of the first ever privately funded rocket plane to escape the earth's atmosphere by flying 62.5 miles from the earth's surface; the first manned craft to do so without government funding.
With thousands of people crowding the flight lines of the Mojave Airport in California, Eastern Arizona was fully represented by our family of four. We headed out Sunday morning and drove over 13 hours (one way) to witness this historical event. With our family dog in hand, we entered the airport at 3:30 in the morning anxiously awaiting the take-off, which was to take place at 6:30 am. Not knowing till the last minute whether or not the weather would allow the flight to continue, we held our breath and prayed until finally, over the loud speaker, we were given the okay.
White Knight, which was the aircraft that would carry SpaceShipOne to its launching point of 47,000 feet, lifted off the desert floor at 6:45 am. Within 45 minutes, WhiteKnight reached its destination and disengaged from SpaceShipOne. Released from WhiteKnight's grasp, SpaceShipOne was able to initiate its 80 second rocket burn, which carried it out of the Earth's atmosphere and into space.
While in space, pilot Michael Melvill celebrated this moment by breaking open a pack of M&M's and watching them dance before him in their state of weightlessness.
Although there was a brief control failure that sent the craft 22 miles off course, Melvill reentered the Earth's atmosphere safely. On the ground, after hearing the sonic boom of his reentry, the crown began to cheer and clap, even though no one would be able to actually see the craft for another few minutes.
Within five minutes of hearing the sonic boom, cameras and faces were all turned upward seaching the sky for any sign of the ship. Finally, shouts of joy rippled thoughout the crowd as, one by one, people began to see SpaceShipOne, followed by its chase planes, gliding in toward the runway.
After a nearly perfect landing, Melvill spoke to the press and the VIPs present. During his recount of the mornings events, the FAA presented Melvill with his very own pair of astronaut wings. He then climbed on top of SpaceShipOne as it was slowly paraded before the public viewing area. As the craft was being towed along the runway, designer of the craft, Burt Rutan, handed astronaut Mevill a sign that libertarian radio talk show host Ernest Hancock had given him, reading "SpaceShipOne - Government Zero."
And Hancock is not the only one keeping score. With this successful flight, Rutan has realized the dreams of millions of Americans who have waited their entire lives for a non-government space program.
Rutan will, by the end of this year, use the space-plane to make a try at winning the Ansari X-Prize. The prize, $10 million dollars, will go to the first team to send a non-government funded craft into sub-orbital space (62.5 miles) with a crew of three, then repeat the feat within two weeks.
It is not, however, about the prize money. Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and the financial backer of Rutan's team, doesn't need the money. And after spending $20 million on the project, winning the X-Prize won't even let him break even. While claiming the title of the first private company to go to space is nice, the ultimate goal of Rutan and company, as well as the other 25 teams entered in the competition, is to make space travel affordable -- and to prove that governments are not the only entities with the resources to explore space.
This goal is quite plainly stated in the X-Prize's mission statement: "We believe that spaceflight should be open to all -- not just an elite cadre of government employees or the ultra-rich. We believe that commercial forces will bring spaceflight into a publicly affordable range. We will use our best efforts to achieve this goal."
"Since Yuri Gagarin and Al Shepard's epic flights in 1961, all space missions have been flown only under large, expensive government efforts," Rutan said before the space attempt. "By contrast, our program involves a few dedicated individuals who are focused entirely on making spaceflight affordable. Without the entrepreneur approach, space access would continue to be out of reach for ordinary citizens. The SpaceShipOne flights will change all that and encourage others to usher in a new, low-cost era in space travel."
Rutan predicted that suborbital space tourism could become routine and affordable within the next 15 years, as the free market drives what he called "a space age for all of us."
With this in mind, many individuals are trying to encourage people to take an interest in not only space exploration, but the privatization of the aerospace industry. One such individual, David Morris, an instructor at Eastern Arizona College, invited us to his summer Astronomy class to give a special presentation on the events of that historical day, along with the political and economical impact it will have on our society. As propontents of the free market, we were only happy to oblige.
Back from our vacation and thrust back into our every day lives, we will always remember June 21, 2004 like it was yesterday. The sound, smell, and feelings of accomplishment will remain with us always. Thanks to men such as Rutan and Allen, childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut are within the reach of everyone, not merely the elites choosen by NASA.
Posted by Claire @ 07:52 AM CST