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SpaceShipOne Flight Not as Perfect as it Seemed 609

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the still-higher-than-my-car-can-get dept.
ArbiterOne writes "SpaceShipOne's flight wasn't as perfect as it seemed, according to Burt Rutan and New Scientist. Apparently, at one point in the descent, the pilot completely lost attitude control. According to him, "If that had happened earlier, I would never have made it and you all would be looking sad right now." Could this pose some problems for the X-Prize contender?"
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SpaceShipOne Flight Not as Perfect as it Seemed

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  • by PFactor (135319) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @09:54AM (#9494891) Journal
    I don't see anyone doing any better than they did (yet).
  • by JosKarith (757063) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @09:54AM (#9494899)
    Build...test...improve...retest...etc
    It's how aeronautical design's been done for decades. I very much doubt this'll be a major setback for them.
    • by Jetson (176002) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:06AM (#9495042) Homepage
      The article says that he lost attitude control at the end of the burn as the ship was leaving the atmosphere. What else would you expect, considering the primary attitude controls are atmospheric flight surfaces? Once the ailerons, elevators and rudders have no air to push agains you're pretty much stuck with gyros, attitude thrusters or a controllable main engine thrust nozzle. This craft had NONE of those, so It would be completely reasonable to expect it to tumble until the air friction had built up enough for the fins to reorient the aircraft along the motion vector.
      • by worst_name_ever (633374) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:11AM (#9495101)
        Once the ailerons, elevators and rudders have no air to push agains you're pretty much stuck with gyros, attitude thrusters or a controllable main engine thrust nozzle. This craft had NONE of those

        SpaceShipOne does indeed have cold gas attitude thrusters. You can see a photo of one firing during a test flight here [scaled.com].

        • Yeager (Score:5, Informative)

          by Genady (27988) <.moc.cam. .ta. .sregor.yrag.> on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:46AM (#9495560)
          The history geeks among us will remember that Yeager had the same problem with that modified F-104 used for NASA pilot training. Enough out of the atmosphere for the aerodynamic controls not to work, but not enough into space for the peroxide jets to function either. I hope SS1 recovers from a spin better than an F-104 does.
        • by MrBlue VT (245806) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @11:39AM (#9496205) Homepage
          Actually, it's kind of funny that they encountered this issue. John Carmack predicted it last week in his weekly update [armadilloaerospace.com] (second to last paragraph):

          Speaking of next week... I think Space Ship One has good odds of success in the single-person-to-100km flight. I only see two real issues they may hit: The extended burn above the atmosphere may run into some control issues as the nozzle ablates, which will be hard to correct with only cold gas attitude jets. This would be a fairly benign failure, with the pilot just shutting off the main engine if he can't hold the trajectory.
      • Not to point out the obvious, but I'm pretty sure that they are aware of this as well. I believe the issue had to do with the crafts attitude as it left the controlability envelope. If you enter space while already tumbling, then that's when the bad mojo happens.

        Once you are in space your inertia will carry you along what ever path you started. So if you start in the proper attitude, and under control, you'll return to the atmosphere in much the same condition. If you leave the atmosphere tumbling out of control, you'll hit it out of control and you'll be far less likely to ever regain it. Indeed, at that air speed, as you drop you into thicker air out of control you are far more likely to suffer complete structural failure. That's bad.

      • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @11:00AM (#9495736) Journal
        SpaceShipOne is fairly unique in that the horizontal tail surfaces are outside the span of the wings. It uses differential movement of these tail surfaces to control roll. At subsonic speeds the pilot controls the elevons at the back of these surfaces, through a fairly normal linkage, but as you get to supersonic speeds the aerodynamic forces become impossible for human strength to overcome. So, at high speeds the front half of the tail control surfaces are moved electrically to generate pitch and roll forces. Apparently one of these electric trim systems failed.

        The Bell X-1 used a similar electric trim for pitch, to overcome instabilities going through Mach 1.

        Because the elevons on SpaceShipOne control both pitch and roll, Melville was left with no control on two out of three axes at the end of his climb. I cannot imagine how this must have felt, but he recovered with astonishing speed -- and was playing around with floating M&M's a few seconds later. It's unclear to me just what kind of "backup system" he used to control the ship after the trim motor failure, perhaps it was the cold-gas thrusters.

        SpaceShipOne depends on still being within the vestiges of the atmosphere for control while the rocket is firing, although the parent poster is correct, control will get sloppy toward the end of the burn as they get above 150,000 ft. The ship has the advantage that it is going very fast indeed at that point, so while there is not a lot of air up there, the forces is generates is more than you would expect.

        I was surprised watching the launch that the exhaust plume did not change much during the flight from 50,000 ft to burnout -- I would have expected to see far more expansion as it left the atmosphere -- as you see during a MinuteMan launch, for example. This again points to the ship still being atmosphere of some significant (while small!) density at burnout.

        That Mike Melville is one hell of a pilot, his skill and Burt Rutan's innovative feather recovery saved the day. Every previous manned exoatmospheric craft depended on flying an extremely precise attitude before and during re-entry. Failure to maintain this attitude led to the loss of an X-15 and the NF-104 as dramatically recounted in The Right Stuff. SpaceShipOne has no effective attitude control during re-entry, but feathering the wing put the ship into an extremely stable high-drag configuration. Once the ship was subsonic and the wing was folded back into its normal position, the manual control of the elevons was used to fly the ship to a perfect landing.

        If you look at SpaceShipOne as it flew yesterday, there was significant work done in the tail booms after the previous flight and prior to this one -- the most obvious change is the installation of a few more camera portholes (presumably with cameras behind them). That's the first place I'd look for the cause of the trim failure.

        The launch yesterday was great fun to attend, and I really do think that it will mark a profound change in our access to space.

        Thad Beier

    • by Iamthefallen (523816) <Gmail name: Iamthefallen> on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:10AM (#9495088) Homepage Journal

      Yeah, developing spacecraft is a lengthy process, just look at NASA. But they'll get it right. I mean, it's not rocket science.

  • by Dagny Taggert (785517) <hankrearden@gmai l . c om> on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @09:55AM (#9494906) Homepage
    ...the pilot's skill. However, this is to be expected with any prototype. It's always the early pioneers who take the risks; I guarantee that Rutan and crew are working on fixing the attitude problem as we speak. And, knowing those guys, the next flight will be perfect.
    • by at_kernel_99 (659988) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:40AM (#9495472) Homepage
      This says quite a bit about... ...the pilot's skill.

      It does. Though I'm not sure what it says about his judgement. I certainly have the highest respect for Melville as a pilot - he's been testing for Burt for decades. However, when you look at the flight - he noticed control anomalies immediately after separating from White Knight, but chose to continue the flight - maybe he did indeed get very lucky. What caused the bang? What caused the control problems both early and late in the flight?

      In flight training, my instructor called it 'get home-itis'. When you're close to home you're a lot more likely to press on in deteriorating circumstances than if you're still far from home. With the public & press invited to this launch, was there too much pressure on Melville to make the flight despite early signs of possible problems? I hate to second guess a professional of his caliber, but it feels like there was a lot of luck involved in this flight.

      • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @12:03PM (#9496540) Homepage Journal
        It seems to me that test pilots don't think like normal pilots. Normal pilots -- even fighter jocks -- have to think like anyone else operating a piece of expensive and potentially dangerous equipment: do the job, get yourself and the machine back safely. Test pilots don't have a "job" to do in the same sense; their job is to push the machine to its limits, and if they get back to the ground in one piece, well, that's gravy.

        I'm glad there are people out there doing that kind of thing. I'm also glad I'm not one of them.
    • This says quite a bit about the pilot's skill
      I'm pretty amazed he recovered from a sudden 90 degree lurch!

      This also says a lot about Rutan and his team. They came right out with the problems. Most companies aren't like that, just imagine Ford discussing problems with an Explorer prototype.

      I think these guys really are headed for the history books.

  • by PktLoss (647983) * on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @09:56AM (#9494920) Homepage Journal
    A few of my friends were very surprised that this run wouldn't count at all for the X-Prize, since it didn't have enough people or weight to replace them.

    This is exactly why, it was a test run, things can, and did (though fortunatly not bad enough to have resulted in loss of life) go wrong.

    I think this was exactly the right way for them to have approached this, go up with as little extra as possible, see what goes well and what doesn't, and make revisions based on that. Though an extra 300lbs might not have mattered much with this particular problem, in other cases it could have turned a small problem into a disaster.
  • by johannesg (664142) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @09:57AM (#9494939)
    The poll indicates 62% of the /. crowd would happily fly in that ship on monday. It would be interesting to repeat the poll now and see if it is still this high.

    And despite this: it *is* rocket science, and an experimental vehicle to boot. It isn't surprising there are some problems. Let's all be happy the pilot actually survived.

    • by Raven42rac (448205) * on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:15AM (#9495173)
      I would still suit up and hop in if asked. Granted, I have zero experience flying (although I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night!), but I would still do it. The view alone would be enough to make me happy before I die. These guys knew what they were doing, and that minor things do go wrong. Minor things can be catastrophic things at 3.2G, though. We are all glad that the pilot was unhurt.
    • The poll indicates 62% of the /. crowd would happily fly in that ship on monday. It would be interesting to repeat the poll now and see if it is still this high.

      Perhaps some would change, but I'd still have been willing. Admittedly, that's more emotion than anything else, since I don't have any skills that would have been useful in such a flight, but damn, given a chance to go into space, even on an experimental craft . . .

      Speaking of which, where are they holding the signups for being ballast on the

    • by Mulletproof (513805) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:37AM (#9495412) Homepage Journal
      I'd have to say that number would be even greater now, actually. Think of it this way-- 62% of /. were willing go with a total unknown, where the chance of failure was just as high as the chance of success. Now you not only have a successful return, you have some major issues brought to ligh that will undoubtably be corrected before the next flight that will only raise the chances of success.

      I'd vote yes again :D
  • by PinchDuck (199974) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @09:58AM (#9494959)
    "Could this pose some problems for the X-Prize contender?"

    Of course it could, bubblehead. Getting into space is HARD.
  • by Mz6 (741941) * on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @09:59AM (#9494969) Journal
    Attitude control is defined as:

    "The position in space of a spacecraft or aircraft. A satellite's attitude can be measured by the angle the satellite makes with the object it is orbiting, usually the Earth. Attitude determines the direction a satellite's instruments face. The attitude of a satellite must be constantly maintained; this is known as attitude control."

    You're welcome.

  • by trickycamel (696375) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @09:59AM (#9494970)
    F#$@ing X prize!! Damn this m*******ing piece of flying s#@$! No way there going to drag me back into this tin can next week! I WILL HUNT YO... oh look, shiny wings!!!
  • by mykepredko (40154) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:03AM (#9495011) Homepage
    This is something that has always impressed me with Rutan; he has always been pretty honest with regards to the performance and safety of his designs.

    He could have just as easily hid the issues and blamed the time to fix the problem on the FAA or a vendor (like the rocket motor supplier).

    The attitude changes on motor light are significant problems that will have to be addressed although I wonder if it is due to center of gravity changes caused by the fully fueled motor. The big bang and deformed panel is a potentially bigger problem and may require significant changes to the structure.

    myke
  • by Ayandia (630042) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:03AM (#9495019)
    For spaceflight it seems to take fewer imperfections to kill you. For a first run mostly perfect is fantastic...especially since the not perfect parts didn't involve dying.

    The flight was a success, the pilot survived, and the ship wasn't damaged? Good job guys! Don't get lazy!
  • Accept the risk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mratitude (782540) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:04AM (#9495025) Journal
    As a society viewing the initial private sojourns into space we need to prepare for the risk these people will take and we need to prepare ourselves for the first casualties. Otherwise, when someone does die, we'll knee-jerk the issue to the point that someone will suggest "There ought to be a law...".

    There's been quite enough of that already, thank you very much. Get ready for it, it's going to happen. Every pioneering effort accumulates causualties.
  • Consider as well that even the big boys have had their fair share of problems [nasa.gov], and still managed to get out with everyone alive.

    Space flight is dangerous. What amazes me is that even big problems don't result in fatalities whereas, in the case of Challenger(maybe Columbia), a minor problem resulted in the death of the crew.
    • by malfunct (120790) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:18AM (#9495201) Homepage
      Um, I don't call an exploding rocket booster a small problem.

      I also don't call a big hole in the heat resistant paneling when you plan to endure metal melting temperatures a small problem either.

      In contrast getting your ship pointed in the wrong direction for a while is smaller in that at least you get a chance to correct the problem (and in fact he had already corrected some issues in control moments after he fired the rockets proving he is an excellent pilot, damn lucky, or both).

      All in all this flight was probably as perfect as any adventure into space can hope to be.

      • The two recoverable incidents we are talking about are ones where human pilots were in the loop to repair an anomaly (SS1 and Apollo 13).

        The space disasters where everyone dies are ones where the pilots have no idea there is a problem, and the computers can't fix it.

        Challenger had an o-ring problem that was wilfully ignored by engineers, and hidden from the pilots. Had the pilot been told that a catastrophic breach been possible with a forzen ring, the flight would have never left, and 7 people would stil
  • Amateurs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hiro Antagonist (310179) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:10AM (#9495094) Journal
    There's an old story from Analog (a science-fiction magazine) titled 'Amateurs' which reminds me quite a bit of the guys at Scaled Composites, except in 'Amateurs', they didn't have a government prize to spur them on, just a drive to get into space, and a willingness to ignore and/or bend a few laws, such as re-using the ID of a salvaged Lear jet for their experimental SSTO vehicle[1], called 'Dervish Also', because the original, titled 'Dervish', blew up.

    On the top of the hatch that led into the interior of the ship was stenciled the words: "Experimental Space Rocket -- Dangerous As Hell"

    [1] Probably one of the funnier points in the story is during a radio exchange between the pilot of the Dervish Also and the ground, where the pilot requested clearance to take his "Learjet" to a flight level of 600. *grin*
    • Re:Amateurs (Score:3, Informative)

      by brucehoult (148138)
      There's an old story from Analog (a science-fiction magazine) titled 'Amateurs' which reminds me quite a bit of the guys at Scaled Composites, except in 'Amateurs', they didn't have a government prize to spur them on

      You appear to think that the X Prize has been put up by the government.

      This is not correct.

      The X Prize is completely private. Peter Diamantes has raised several million dollars from private donations. This has then been used to pay the premium on an insurance policy, with the insurance com
  • by GordoTheGeek (608960) <<ac.nahcaurc> <ta> <nodrog>> on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:12AM (#9495116)
    Perhaps Taco should read check his submissions a little more closely before approving them: Melvill lost attitude control "end of the rocket engine's firing time of about 70 seconds, just as Melvill reached space". That would be in the ascent phase.
  • Class act (Score:5, Insightful)

    by amightywind (691887) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:12AM (#9495125) Journal

    Credit Mike Melville and Burt Rutan for being so open about the problems they experienced. Remember, this is 1 day after the flight! Compare that with how NASA closed ranks and divulged Columbia information with an eye dropper for weeks after the disaster. The only statements made by the mission controllers were through their lawyers. The Russians and Chinese would never admit to problems at all. Burt Rutan is a genious, he puts his work on the line for all the world to see. Space Ship 1 is a class act all the way around.

    • Re:Class act (Score:4, Insightful)

      by oni (41625) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:59AM (#9495727) Homepage
      Compare that with how NASA closed ranks and divulged Columbia information with an eye dropper for weeks after the disaster.

      Wait a sec. If congress and the press started accusing Rutan of being negligent, you can bet your ass his coworkers would close ranks.

      And if something really complicated and non-obvious has occured, they will release the information they learn as they learn it. Today they tell us there was a problem with attitude thrusters. Maybe tomorrow they will learn that the problem was with the main engine gymbal. If that happens, are you going to say they are divulging info with an eye dropper?
    • Re:Class act (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SilentChris (452960) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @11:07AM (#9495816) Homepage
      "Compare that with how NASA closed ranks and divulged Columbia information"

      I don't think that's fair or even justified. NASA is (primarily) a government organization. They have contractors to pay, politicians to appease, etc. Every flight is a multimilion dollar undertaking, and consider the vast majority for them have gone well, they must be doing something right.

      Yesterday's flight, while incredible, was done with a very low budget (and in some ways, seat of the pants). Not that that's inherently "wrong", but they'd have a lot less people to answer to if something catastrophic happened. They'd probably have some investors to explain to, but NASA had over 300 million with Columbia. Would you rather the answers come out quickly or correctly?
  • by antdude (79039) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:13AM (#9495144) Homepage Journal
    The part where Mike Mevilla opened a bag of M&Ms and the candies went flying? I saw it on news, but it was freaky short! Do you know where I can watch the whole video online?

    Thank you in advance.
  • they will win (Score:5, Insightful)

    by VanillaCoke420 (662576) <vanillacoke420&hotmail,com> on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:13AM (#9495145)
    In my opinion, they have the greatest chance of winning. Scaled is the only team that have performed actual flight tests with their real spacecraft and not only testfiring their rockets or prototypes. They have come a very long way through a careful series of testflights, going higher and faster every time. Now they've reached space. Even the other promising teams (Canadian Arrow, Starchaser, da Vinci, etc.) have yet to fly a fullscale rocket, manned or not. They still have six months to do it. They've come the farthest, and unless they experience some serious setbacks, they have a great chance of winning. Sure things might not go perfectly now or later, but if noone is making mistakes, then how are they supposed to learn from them?
  • Not surprising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by haplo21112 (184264) <haplo@epithnaERDOS.com minus math_god> on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:15AM (#9495167) Homepage
    Seing as they are the first to exit the atmosphere in the way that they did it. Its not entirely unexpected that the ship would encounter things that it had not previous to this. The stresses (and lack of conversely as atmospheric pressure lessens) required to do what it did are hard to calculate and test. I wouldn't even count this as a set back...my bet is that they will take June and Most of July to figure out what was up during this flight make design changes and do another single pilot test flight in Late July Early August. And then another in September, the winning flights will probably take place in late October early November...just my guess...
  • by FaerieBoy (692369) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:16AM (#9495183)
    I've been following armadillo for some time, and though armadillo/carmack doesn't think armadillo is going to win the x-prize, carmack stated before that control systems/requiring a pilot could lead to major setbacks for Space Ship One and change the odds (back in august). And more recently he discussed his focus on control systems [slashdot.org].

    According to one article they had to run on backup systems [bbc.co.uk], another said the pilot heard a loud BANG at one point (lost that link). Not happy stuff, clearly they moved too soon.

    For me, i'm not all that interested in the higher cost version of scaled composites, Rutan IS a pioneer, but previous work has also been government related. Which is why I laugh at the whole notion of public/private. Don't get me wrong, govt funding/projects are a good thing. But im sick of the BS pretending that there's the government and there's private industry. They are interelated, and we would do well to discuss, and plan, that relationship and public funding of r&d. And dont get me started on healthcare.

    • by neurojab (15737) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:36AM (#9495394)
      >But im sick of the BS pretending that there's the government and there's private industry. They are interelated, and we would do well to discuss, and plan, that relationship and public funding of r&d. And dont get me started on healthcare

      Commie. :)

      The fact is, in a capitalist society (or at least one that's MOSTLY capitalist), spending tax dollars and non-tax dollars are different things. If tax dollars are spent, you get a $900 toilet seat, $5 million in wireless equipment that never leaves the loading dock, etc. It's impossible for government to be efficient, because there's no incentive for efficiency. On the other hand, if private dollars are spent, there's a very big incentive to be efficient: They get to keep the money they don't spend! (or at least whoever is funding them gets to).

      That is the very reason SpaceShipOne cost $20 million instead of $2 billion. If we ever want space flight to be within the reach of the average person, NASA is NOT going to get us there. It's private programs like this that will make the cost reasonable.

      • by at_kernel_99 (659988) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @11:07AM (#9495820) Homepage
        That is the very reason SpaceShipOne cost $20 million instead of $2 billion. If we ever want space flight to be within the reach of the average person, NASA is NOT going to get us there. It's private programs like this that will make the cost reasonable.

        To expand on your point, that is the way it should be. Governments should not be spending tax dollars on building amusment rides for the public. How much did whats-his-name (tito?) spend to ride on Soyuz up to the space station? Not enough, if you ask me, the the Russians apparently disagree. If the common man is going to space, it is private enterprise that should get him there.

      • Space Ship One isn't restricted by government mandated standards for "safe" space travel, either. Triple-redundancy of all critical components and heavily tested radiation hardening (which is why many of the chips used are 3-4 years old), for instance.

        It also doesn't have the contractual and budgetary quirks that give you a $900 toilet seat or $2000+ hammer. The main problem is that the government has no idea what a certain item will cost for R&D and construction and budgets a certain amount to a con
  • by WormholeFiend (674934) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:21AM (#9495229)
    news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3829489.stm
    Th ey quote Rutan:
    "The fact that our back-up system worked and we made a beautiful landing makes me feel very good."

    I find it quite insightful of Rutan to have designed a backup system into his space-plane. And it did work as designed... a clear demonstration that should win even more future safety-weary customers/passengers.
  • Chicken Little (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Ape With No Name (213531) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:22AM (#9495235) Homepage
    Could this pose some problems for the X-Prize contender?

    C'mon. What are you a Mac user? ;-) Not everything works seemlessly out of the box. If anything this is a perfect reason why there should a human behind the controls. "Yeah, the controls got stiff then I lost attitude control. Then they became softer." That is the kind of feedback that engineers, especially those making it up on the spot, live by.
  • The Right Stuff (Score:5, Informative)

    by panurge (573432) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:23AM (#9495252)
    In the book, Tom Wolfe comments at length on the problems experienced with the X-craft on the edge of the atmosphere, including total loss of control surfaces and craft spinning sideways. It's worth re-reading (surely every self respecting geek has read it at least once?) now that the Bell X approach to spaceflight seems to be on the road again.

    And yes, Chuck Yeager (IMHO) was the greatest. The book reminds us of the distinction between real pilots and astronauts (mostly passengers). The guy who piloted Richard Noble's Thrust (supersonic on land) and the guy who piloted the Rutan craft are pilots.

  • test flight (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AviLazar (741826) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:24AM (#9495255) Journal
    thats why this was a test flight - to help get the kinks and bugs out of the process so they can send three people up (which is required to win the 10 mil prize).
  • by sakusha (441986) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:25AM (#9495264)
    I want to know what poor guy gets stuck cleaning the M&Ms out of the cockpit. I'm sure they all melted in the desert heat once the spacecraft sat on the runway for a few minutes. This isn't exactly the best way to treat a cockpit full of fancy electronics, to bathe them in blobs of sugary fat.
    • M & M's won't mlet all over the place (assuming the candy shell remains intact). The founder of Mars (parent company of M & M) got the idea when he was in the (Sahara?) desert & saw the locals eating a hard-shelled candy.
  • by glucoseboy (686200) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:31AM (#9495326)
    From the New Scientist Article:

    But it was the sublime view that affected him the most. "The sky was jet black, with light blue along the horizon - it was really an awesome sight," he said. "You really do get the feeling that you've touched the face of God."

    That just brought me back to 1986 when the Challenger exploded during ascent and Ronald Reagan's address to the nation that night...

    http://www.nasa.gov/audience/formedia/speeches/r ea gan_challenger.html

    Say what you will about Reagan, regardless of how you felt about his policies (many were quite controversial), he sure could deliver great speeches.

    • by angusr (718699) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @11:04AM (#9495780)
      ttp://www.nasa.gov/audience/formedia/speeches/rea gan_challenger.html

      Say what you will about Reagan, regardless of how you felt about his policies (many were quite controversial), he sure could deliver great speeches.

      The best lines in it, however, were paraphrased from John Gillespie McGee's famous poem "High Flight" [af.mil], which is also what Melvill was most likely thinking of. It's a standard reading at the funerals of pilots, and I personally feel that Reagan's speech would have been better, and perhaps more fitting, had he finished with the entire poem. It sums up the main reason why astronauts - military, governmental or private - will always want to strap themselves into something that will never be 100% safe and fly.

  • by Dr. Zowie (109983) <slashdot@@@deforest...org> on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:42AM (#9495498)
    One might think that tumbling is easy to control -- after all, if the craft is spinning and you have cold gas thrusters, you can just fire the jets to oppose the spinning, right?

    wrong.

    Most objects do not spin cleanly about most axes. Rigid bodies (such as books, spaceships, rocks, lollipops, and bullets) have three "principal axes" that pass through the center of gravity and are determined by the mass distribution in the object. There's a "minimum" axis that minimizes the kinetic energy for a given angular momentum -- that's the axis around which the thing is the most clustered. For a screwdriver, the minimum axis generally points down the length of the scredriver shaft. There's also a "maximum" axis around which the thing is the most spread out of any direction. For a flat object like a book or a pancake, the maximum axis points directly out of the flat face. Those are the only two axes around which you can spin the object and have it stay stable.

    Any other direction will give rise to precession and tumbling, even in vacuum! You can try it with a book -- most closed hardback books have the minimum axis pointing up through the top of the middle pages, and the maximum axis pointing out through the front of the cover. The third dimension -- pointing out through the spine -- is not stable. Tape a book shut and flip it in the air: if you flip it around the maximum or minimum moment axis it will do what you think -- just flip over before you catch it again. If you flip it around the intermediate axis (by, say, starting with the book facing you right-side up with the spine on the left, and pulling the bottom edge toward you as you throw it up in the air) then you might expect the spine to stay on your left side -- but it will flip back and forth, often ending up on your right side, as the book tumbles in the air. (Remember to tape the book closed before tossing it!).

    Anyhow, that's a problem for stopping spin and tumbling, because it's not always obvious which way to fire the cold-gas jets to slow down your rotation: by the time you actually fire them you might have tumbled around so that they are speeding you up instead of slowing you down.

    I guess that's why "carefree re-entry" is such a great feature of SpaceShipOne -- it's remarkable that they were able to land safely even without good attitude control at apogee.

  • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:43AM (#9495520) Homepage Journal
    The flight was convered in greater detail in yesterday's news. While they weren't expecting loss of trim, they did anticipate the possibility, and had a backup system.

    There was a show recently on PBS about the Joint Strike Fighter selection competition. The first flights of the aircraft were done with the landing gear down because with all the other uncertainties they didn't want to take the chance that the gear would fail to lower. They had glitches with hydraulic leaks, landing gear brakes, the VTOL systems, and refueling equipment. In any kind of new aircraft, you expect there to be lots of little problems, more than a few of which are capable of killing the test pilots.

    Rutan doesn't seem to be taking any unnecessary chances; he's taking this step by step. If he was just rushing break-neck to win, he'd be going for the prize today. We don't know at this point how much of a setback these glitches were, but I'm reasonably sure he has time for dealing with them charted out in the project.
  • by El Kevbo (81125) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @10:46AM (#9495568)

    But it was the sublime view that affected him the most. "The sky was jet black, with light blue along the horizon - it was really an awesome sight," he said. "You really do get the feeling that you've touched the face of God."

    What does God need with a starship?

  • by richmaine (128733) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @11:04AM (#9495785)
    Surprised nobody yet has cited the old pilot saying...

    "Any landing that you can walk away from is a good landing." :-)
  • So What? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by m1a1 (622864) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @11:07AM (#9495821)
    So the flight didn't go perfect. There were problems, but there is a long ways between "almost failed" and "failed". So there are kinks and I'm sure this flight gave the engineers the information they need to improve on the design.

    Look at it this way, the last time NASA screwed up people died. Scaled Composites screwed up and a craft buckled slightly but returned home safely. I think they are doing alright.
  • Weightless.... (Score:3, Informative)

    by blair1q (305137) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @11:19AM (#9495984) Journal
    ...they describe weightlessness as though it's a property of leaving the atmosphere...

    He became "weightless" the instant he cut the thrust, because then the only acceleration acting on the aircraft was gravity. I.e., he still had weight, but he was unable to feel it, because he was coasting freely along with it.
  • by mwood (25379) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @11:50AM (#9496336)
    It just means they've got something specific to work on for SpaceShipTwo, plus some revisions to the pilot training. You probably had a few thrilling moments the first time *you* piloted a ship back from space, right? :-)
  • yada yada (Score:5, Insightful)

    by maxpublic (450413) on Tuesday June 22, 2004 @12:33PM (#9496953) Homepage
    Let' recap, shall we?

    (1) The ship was successfully launched
    (2) The ship achieved it's goal
    (3) Both ship and pilot returned safely to the ground

    I would call this a success, wouldn't you?

    I'd also point out that the pilot - who, I'd wager, has more experience testing experimental craft than all of Slashdot put together - was so concerned over the irregularities of the flight that he...played with M&M's while weightless.

    Yep, ol' Mike was riddled with doubt and fear over the safety of his ship, he was.

    Hand-wringers, space never was, and never will be, for you.

    Max

The ideal voice for radio may be defined as showing no substance, no sex, no owner, and a message of importance for every housewife. -- Harry V. Wade

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