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Space Science

SpaceShipOne Flight Completed Successfully 998

knothead99 writes "CNN is reporting the successful liftoff of SpaceShipOne from a runway in the Mojave desert. Around 10:30 EDT the craft will reach an altitude of 50,000 feet and they'll separate from White Knight and ignite the rocket for space entry. More information can also be found at the Mojave Airport website" Update: 06/21 15:36 GMT by S : An MSNBC story confirms that SpaceShipOne 'glided safely back to Earth, landing back at the Mojave Airport' around 8.15AM PST.
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SpaceShipOne Flight Completed Successfully

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  • Question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PrvtBurrito ( 557287 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:31AM (#9484669)
    So they made it. Congrats. Now how high would they have to go to enter orbit?
    • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

      by Dr. GeneMachine ( 720233 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:34AM (#9484710)
      It's more a question of speed than of height - with the current design, Spaceship One won't be capable of reaching orbital speeds, which far exceed Mach 3.
    • Re:Question (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Paulrothrock ( 685079 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:35AM (#9484724) Homepage Journal
      38 miles higher, and 18,000 mph downrange velocity. Roughly. Baby steps, man, baby steps.

      Best part, Rutan has admitted that SS1 is scalable, meaning it could become an orbital launch vehicle. Sweet.

    • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

      by Yarn ( 75 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:36AM (#9484742) Homepage
      it's not a matter of height, it's a matter of speed.

      Here [] is a nice orbital velocity calculator.

      Getting up to that speed is not the only problem, you have to loose all that kinetic energy before you land, unless you fancy spreading yourself thinly across a continent.
    • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

      by StupidHelpDeskGuy ( 636955 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:37AM (#9484755) Journal
      Generally somewhere between 250-300 km (where air drag starts to become important) and 1000 km (where the inner van allen radiation belt starts to get serious). Low earth orbit usually implies a modest inclination to the equator, (i.e., the lowest achievable from the launch site). The Space Shuttle flies in low Earth orbit.

      For more information see this article from ScienceWorld []
    • Re:Question (Score:5, Informative)

      by pyrrhonist ( 701154 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:40AM (#9484814)
      So they made it. Congrats. Now how high would they have to go to enter orbit?

      Low Earth Orbit is 350 km (217 mi). Obits lower than this are not stable.

      In addition, they would have to be going about 8 times faster to reach orbit.

  • Early shutdown? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) * on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:32AM (#9484672) Homepage
    According to most reports, everything went swimmingly, but the Globe and Mail are reporting that SpaceShipOne's engine shut itself down prematurely [] (according to CNN reports.)

    Anybody with more details on this? Is this an Issue Of Significance, or is it no big deal?

    Note to editors: It's not like you didn't have advance notice of this. It's not like this isn't a huge story. SpacesShipOne successfully lifted off over an hour before this previewed on the front page. Step lively!

    • Re:Early shutdown? (Score:5, Informative)

      by nonameisgood ( 633434 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:44AM (#9484864)
      If they hit the 100 km mark, as planned, it was obviously not premature, although it might have been shut down earlier than planned due to any of many reasons (better conditions aloft, etc.) If it was earlier than planned, and they made the target altitude, then that shows they have planned well and the systems worked. Everything I would expect from these people.

      Nothing here...move along.
      • Re:Early shutdown? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by khallow ( 566160 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:55AM (#9485011)
        Actually, they may have planned to hit the 108 km mark. I believe that's the highest altitude (actually 107.8 km) achieved by the X-15 and the world record for a "plane". So when the engine cut out early (which it apparently did), they might have achieved the main goal of 100 km, but not break the world record on that sort of thing.
    • Re:Early shutdown? (Score:5, Informative)

      by thentil ( 678858 ) <[moc.oohay] [ta] [litneht]> on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:45AM (#9484875)
      I read that too, and was frustrated that I couldn't figure out where they were coming up with that. According to this story []:

      "For a few minutes after SpaceShipOne began its descent, it was unclear whether Melvill had reached his goal. But the mission announcer finally said the mission had been successful as the craft prepared to land at Mojave Airport, accompanied by three chase planes. "

      Looks like Globe and Mail just jumped the gun. thpt.
    • Re:Early shutdown? (Score:5, Informative)

      by evenprime ( 324363 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:59AM (#9485048) Homepage Journal
      Probably nothing major. I expect that it was just burning a little hotter than normal, and that it ate up enough of the exhaust nozzle to destroy the fiber optics. (That automatically shuts the engine down.) This was discussed a few months back in AW&ST, but I can't find the link. This will have to do: RLVNews2003-08.html []
      Scaled itself makes the case-throat-nozzle structure, which consists of an "inner layer of silica phenolic insulator and an outer graphite epoxy structural case." Burn-throughs of the insulator occurred in five firings but did not reach the sensor layer of fiber-optic cable between the insulator and case. They want to do a test in which they fire the engine until a burn-through reaches the sensor layer and it triggers a shutdown.
  • blow by blow (Score:5, Informative)

    by Pharmboy ( 216950 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:33AM (#9484699) Journal
    get the blow by blow here [].

    Just refresh your page to get the newest news.
    • by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:36AM (#9484745)
      Just refresh your page to get the newest news.

      So... you're telling Slashdot to go to some page and keep hitting refresh?

      Reckless, don't you think?

    • Re:blow by blow (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:45AM (#9484888) Homepage Journal
      My favorite update [] so far is this one:

      1250 GMT (8:50 a.m. EDT)

      The International Space Station will be flying high above Mojave at approximately the time SpaceShipOne is scheduled to launch. The Expedition 9 resident crew will attempt to photograph the launch and contrail.

      The ISS crew, likely to be remembered as caretakers of NASA's failed scheme, will be witness to the future of space exploration. Poetic, isn't it?

      It also occurs to me that if something bad happens to the Russian space program, the ISS crew may have to wait for Rutan's future orbital project, if they hope to get home at all...
      • Re:blow by blow (Score:5, Informative)

        by HeghmoH ( 13204 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @12:19PM (#9485268) Homepage Journal
        It also occurs to me that if something bad happens to the Russian space program, the ISS crew may have to wait for Rutan's future orbital project, if they hope to get home at all...

        The ISS has lifeboats with enough capacity to get everyone down without help from Earth. That's one reason why they never had more than three people on it at a time, because there is currently no vehicle capable of acting as a lifeboat for more than three people. Even if all spacecraft on Earth disappeared tomorrow, they'd be able to get back fine.
      • Re:blow by blow (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rxke ( 644923 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @12:20PM (#9485286) Homepage
        My favorite:
        Melvill: ""Man!" Melvill said, shaking his fists together as he climbed from SpaceShipOne. "I went pretty high, though. When I got to the top, I released a bag of M&Ms in the cockpit. It was absolutely amazing. M&Ms were going all around. It was so cool! We have got to have video of that because I did it in front of one of the video cameras. I haven't ate them. They are in the cockpit."

        Imagine a NASA astronaut doing that on a maiden flight...
  • Sweet (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cmaxx ( 7796 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:33AM (#9484703)
    I saw the take off and the landing live on BBC News24 and it looked very smooth.

    Apparently there may have been some slight damage to the nose, but Mike Melvill declared it a 'mind-blowing experience'.

    Burt Rutan seems quite moved too.
  • I never thought (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tmork ( 662252 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:36AM (#9484750)
    I never thought that my generation (I'm 26) would see commerical space flight in our life time. I thought that the world was too caught up in war and and greed for the next great step to the stars. NASA's stalled and caught in buracrecy, GovCo's got a poltical agenda for the Mars mission.

    I am happily, gratefully, wrong. I hope with all my heart that Rutan and his contemporaries continue the privately funded drive to the stars.

    • Re:I never thought (Score:5, Informative)

      by john82 ( 68332 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:58AM (#9485043)
      NASA's stalled and caught in buracrecy, GovCo's got a poltical agenda for the Mars mission.

      You're too young to remember that we've been here before. Kennedy went to space for political reasons too. Americans were trying to one-up the Russians. Check this [] and this [] out. For those who don't like to RTFA:

      Contrary to the popular view of John Kennedy as a space visionary, the president had little interest in space and strove to put humans on the moon only for its political importance. "I'm not that interested in space," he told NASA chief James Webb late in 1962.
  • by icejai ( 214906 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:37AM (#9484757)
    Basically at first, they said the engine cut out early on their own (they were supposed to be switched off by the pilot instead). They don't know why the engine cut out early.

    As a result, they weren't sure if they reached the 100km mark at first, but were told they did afterward.

    On the glide back to the landing strip, some loud pops were heard coming from the back of the rocket. Chaser planes inspected, and reported everything looked ok.

    Hooray for private spaceflight!
  • Old News? (Score:5, Funny)

    by thedillybar ( 677116 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:37AM (#9484758)
    Posted by Hemos on Monday June 21, @11:31AM [EDT]

    Around 10:30 EDT the craft will reach an altitude of 50,000 feet...

    What's wrong with this picture?

  • This is a great day for man. I firmly believe that our future lies in some day getting off this Earth and spreading throughout space. As such, the accomplishment we have witnessed today was great. This heralds a new era of spaceflight, not one in which governments spend billions, but one in which small companies pay millions, to get into orbit. At this rate, in ten years, commercial space flight might be a reality - and space exploitation (and as a side-effect, human colonization of space) would occur. See any number of novels by Stephen Baxter for more details.
  • by patmandu ( 247443 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:37AM (#9484768)
    Let's see 'em try to do the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs!

  • Wonderful! (Score:5, Informative)

    by MachineShedFred ( 621896 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:37AM (#9484769) Journal
    Next time please provide a link [] to the actual story so that when CNN takes it off their front page due to the next Clowns Fighting for the White House story breaking, we can still see "stuff that matters" mmkay?
  • A Truly Historic Day (Score:5, Interesting)

    by yohaas ( 228469 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:41AM (#9484822)
    This is truly an historic day.
    IMO the most historic event since 9/11.
    No, it's not the beginning of commercially available space flight, but it is an important proof of concept. I think it's analagous to the Wright brothers flight. Obvioulsy a lot more time and money will have to be spent to achieve widespread space travel, but today's flight accomplishes two things:

    1. It gets spcae travel into the private sector. Yes, government programs are responsible for creating many of the technologies we use today, but there's nothing like a little privateization to get things moving.

    2. It shows that is can be done. This is more of a psychological thing, but important nonetheless.

    Congratulations to the SpaceShipOne team, Godspeed and Thank You!
  • My (late) submission (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kulic ( 122255 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:41AM (#9484827) Homepage
    CNN [] is reporting in a developing story [] that SpaceShipOne attained an altitude of over 62.5 miles (100 km) in its historic flight earlier today, making it the first privately built craft to fly in space. More information can be found courtesy of Scaled Composites [] here [] and [] also has a story [].

    "Space flight is not only for governments to do," Rutan said. "Clearly, there's an enormous pent-up hunger to fly into space and not just dream about it." "We are heading to orbit sooner than you think," he said. "We do not intend to stay in low-earth orbit for decades. The next 25 years will be a wild ride. ... One that history will note was done for the benefit of everyone."
  • by hackstraw ( 262471 ) * on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:47AM (#9484900)
    This is the best "news", I believe that I have experienced in my lifetime since the launch of the 1st space shuttle. No, I do not consider wars and killings as news. My life is not really affected by them. Sorry.

    My life has been affected by explorers that came to this country (USA), and by those who have gone into space. Both war/killing and exploration provide an idiology for rustling up resources to get a common goal accomplished, but I kinda prefer the latter.

    One thing to note is that the X Prize will be awarded to "the first privately funded group to send three people on a suborbital flight 62.5miles (100.6 kilometers) high and repeat the feat within two weeks using the same vehicle."

    That is a pretty high goal, because I do not know of any space vehicle that has accomplished this (am I wrong?).
  • by gevmage ( 213603 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:48AM (#9484920) Homepage
    100 km is the official "edge of space", which is presumably matched to some definition of the "thin-ness" of the atmosphere. It may be the height at which 99% of the atmosphere (by mass) is below you.

    Achieving orbits is a 2-step process. You need to get high enough that the atmospheric drag is small enough that it's possible to acheive orbital velocity. Then you have a vehicle with enough thrust to kick you into orbit. Height/velocity isn't the only issue. If you accelerated a vehicle to escape velocity at the earth's surface, it would have the energy to leave the earths gravity well completely; however, the energy would turned into heat by friction with the atmosphere, and the craft would be vaporized.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:48AM (#9484922) Homepage
    Lest we forget, back in 1963, the USAF's X-15 made a similar flight. Lifted under the wing of a B-52, the X-15 reached an altitude of 107960 meters. []

    The X-15 could do everything required to win the X-prize except carry three people. It reached 100km, and it was flown repeatedly, for a total of 199 X-15 flights of three aircraft.

  • by CompWerks ( 684874 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:53AM (#9484982)
    This might be a little too old for most /. 'ers but the first thing I thought when I saw SpaceShipOne is that it looks alot like Flash Gordon's Ship []

  • Chase planes? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hawkfish ( 8978 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:54AM (#9484994) Homepage
    Maybe a silly question, but what is the function of chase planes? Do they look for external damage/problems? Do they try to help in case of an emergency (what could they do)? I was trying to explain it to my 5 year old and then realized I had no idea what I was talking about (kids are fun that way ;-)).
    • Re:Chase planes? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Watcher ( 15643 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @12:04PM (#9485104)
      You were right on the first guess. They usually look for damage or other external problems (like the landing gear not actually being down). There really isn't anything they can do to help, except warn the pilot that something has gone wrong.
      • by iabervon ( 1971 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @12:42PM (#9485561) Homepage Journal
        Now that would be embarassing... "June 21: Went up to 100km. Saw black sky during day. First civilian to pilot in space. Would have gone higher, but accidentally turned off engine (nobody looking, still high enough). Heard loud noise on way back. Forgot to put down landing gear (11,000 people watching).

        "June 22: Biked into tree (nobody looking). Space is easier; nothing to run into."
  • Free video link (Score:5, Informative)

    by caffeine_monkey ( 576033 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:55AM (#9485008) [] has video clips in realvideo and quicktime.
  • Predictions? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Paulrothrock ( 685079 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:57AM (#9485034) Homepage Journal
    How about some predictions for the next 10, 25, and 50 years?

    10 years: Private enterprises are making regular orbital flights, including docking at the ISS and doing crew transfers for various governments. Medium lift (~10 ton to LEO) launch vehicles in test phases. Private probes to Moon, Mars to search for raw materials for harvest or colony support; Cost for suborbital flight: $15K; to LEO: $1 million

    25 years: First private space station, specializing in $20,000/night hotel rooms and microgravity research. ISS abandoned, parts sold to private industry. NASA has a probe orbiting Pluto; Lunar colonies in planning stations, private rovers on Mars. Deliveries using suborbital craft are now regular (for when it absolutely, postively has to be there yesterday). Many people confused about time zones.

    50 years: I move off the mudball to Mars for retirement. Private citizens now moving into Lunar and Mars colonies. Private industry exploring asteroid belt. Suborbital flight as common as airline flight; Cost to LEO: $15K. Space tether under construction at several points around the globe; Nairobi is a major spaceport.

  • Amazing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sunspire ( 784352 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @11:59AM (#9485060)
    It's amazing what a small private company can do with just 20 million dollars. Hopefully this will open up the market for suborbital flights in the future, at the very least it's an example of how to go about getting your permits and really start doing private space business.

    But what it really goes to show is that what we need is more of these innovative competitions and less half-billion dollar shuttle launches. Image if the government and private sector came together to offer the prize of, say, 200 million for the "X2" prize to the first private orbital fligt. And then later on a cool billion dollars to the first private moon mission. It would still be a bargain! A 747 plane costs around 200 million, and even a billion won't get NASA far these days (*cough, x33, chough*). A billion will get you a single B2 bomber, how many more of those do we need? Imagine all that money fueled into milestone driven private development.

    But the best part is, if you're a teen now or in your early twenties, you could one day be working in the space industry! Maybe not as an astronaut, but as a mission planer, technician, sysadmin or accountant :)
  • by greysky ( 136732 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @12:03PM (#9485092)
    Why is it when I read articles about this all I can picture is an episode of monster garage where jesse james comes out and tells the contestents "okay this week you're going to turn a '91 honda civic into a sub-orbital spacecraft, and you have to make is safe 'cus I'm gonna fly it."
  • Lots of people have been asking about how SC can take SS-1 and turn it into something that can get people into LEO and beyond.

    One option is that perhaps they won't, and they will go back to the drawing board to come up with a totally new design. That doesn't seem right to me; Bert is a smart guy, and they have put a lot of resources and time into this, would they just throw it away.

    My thought is that they will scale things up and add another stage.

    In essence, what Burt has done is design a rocket where each stage is designed to suite it's part of the flight, and then return in one piece. At the moment they have a stage to get high in the atmosphere, and a stage to get into space, why not add a new stage to get you to LEO and beyond.

    If WK and SS-1 (SS-2?) were scaled up, is there any reason why a third stage couldn't piggy-back on SS-1 to 100km and then detach and boost into LEO. Both the previous stages would then land and wait for the return of the orbiter. Each would have it's own crew (or perhaps a really good auto-pilot).

    Basically you end up with the advantages of a multi-stage rocket (or the shuttle) but with completely reusable stages.

    Have I completely missed something? Would the seperation at 100km be too difficult? Would there be too much mass for it to be feasible?


    p.s. Well done to everyone at Scaled. An amazing achievement, no matter what the "but I want a pony!" crowd might say. This has been one small step in the right direction, on a long journey.
    • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @01:06PM (#9485855) Homepage Journal
      I'm an amateur "rocket scientist", mainly versed in high pressure liquid fuel engines [], so I'm a bit biased against the low pressure engines used by Carmack etc. but even so my prior response to this issue [] bears repeating:

      The big deal about the 100k altitude goal of the Ansari X-Prize is the space tourism potential. Space tourism is a great business to pursue for advancing the state of the art of rocketry because there are an increasing number of wealthy people who can afford this sort of luxury. The problem is that the real ultimate value of increasing the state of the art of rocketry is access to space, and while SC's and XCor's aerodynamic vehicle approach is a tremendous accomplishment -- it doesn't really give "access" to space without substantial redesign.

      Carmack's vehicle does.

      That's one reason I chose 200km rather than 100km for my amateur rocketry prize [] . I'm pretty sure SC's and XCor's aerodynamically-limited approach would both lose in a race to 200km because they aren't really "space" vehicles.

      Carmack's vehicle is.

      I'm tempted to change my prize award to be private rather than amateur so that I can give it to Carmack's team. The problem is that my goal was, and is, to make space accessible to much lower levels of capital than even Carmack's group has expended -- which is already phenomenally low by aerospace standards.

      Carmack's accomplishment, with his simplified fuel and system, is more profound than anything that has come along from the aerospace business since the hybrid rocket motor back in the 60s. Sadly -- compared to the golden age of aviation -- that's still not saying much. Carmack is, howeer, bound to inspire teams capable of running a modern day "Wright's bike shop" -- and that is saying much.

  • Physics. Orbit. (Score:5, Informative)

    by rew ( 6140 ) <> on Monday June 21, 2004 @01:05PM (#9485850) Homepage
    To get to 100km height, you need m * g * h in energy. per unit of mass you get: g * h = 9.8 * 100 *10^3 ~=~ 1 MJ /kg.

    In orbit, you'll circle the earth every 1.5 hours. That means a speed of about 7.4km/sec. This requires (again per unit of mass) 1/2 * v^2 = 0.5*7400^2= 27 MJ/kg.

    So, reaching (low earth-) orbit requires about 27 times more energy than what was demonstrated now.

    Now there are a few things to keep in mind. You'll have to lug along the fuel to accelrate the last part of your ascent. That means that just taking 27 times more fuel won't cut it.

    We're at least two orders of magnitude away from commercial manned spaceflight. (where spaceflight is defined as "in orbit"). Sure: Big step, but not quite there yet....
  • by Mafiew ( 620133 ) on Monday June 21, 2004 @02:10PM (#9486511)
    Just got back home from the Mojave airport and let me tell you the experience of watching this amazing aircraft reach the edge of space was awesome. Six friends and I drove from Los Angeles to Mojave and when we arrived there around 3 am and the place was already full of people. For the next few hours we explored around the field, bought some very reasonably priced breakfast burritos and ran around the tarmac. All the vendors seemed to be local groups and didn't rip you off (except for coffee and krispie cremes which were a somewhat large dollar a piece).

    Mojave airport is really cool in itself, no fences around and you can wander all over if you want. We got some good spots as near to the takeoff and landing as possible ( they did restrict where you could watch the event, and the ships wheels actually left the ground about 50 yards north of us) and camped out. Everybody around was really excited. Many had come from really far away, like this pair of guys we met from Seattle. I'm sure that there were many who were from much further than that. There was a big mix of people. Lots of old timer aviation types, college age kids, and families. I'm sure much of the town of Mojave were there. We talked to this one guy who was bringing a group of kids from the local high school who were in their special engineering program(something I didn't have at my HS).

    When they announced that the ship was actually going to take off on time I was pretty surprised. I just had a feeling it was going to be delayed. At about 6:40 the low altitude chase plane took off, it was a bright red little single engine plane which according to the announcer was flown by the spaceshipone pilot the night before in order to pull 6G's so that he could go to sleep! Next (I think) came the medium altitude chase plane, which was this really cool and modern looking craft with propellers in the back and a little wing on the nose. Then came White Knight, carring SpaceShipOne which look completely unorthodox and bizarre in person, even if you've already seen pictures of them. It taxied along the tarmac that ran past the crowd did a U turn then sped up and soared off of the runway to a cheering crowd. As everybody watched the ship gain altitude, the high altitude chase taxied and lifted off. This jet was pretty interesting, It sort of looked like a fighter jet that had been squashed to make it all squat lookin, sort of a caricature of a fighter jet. The ship climbed really slowly, about an hour of circling around the airfield getting smaller and smaller. Then we got the word that the rocked was going to take off . The ship was about 2/3 of the way almost directly between the horizon and the sun (the sun being fairly low since this is about 7:45 am). Then all of a sudden this huge contrail appeared and traveled straight up just to the right of the sun traveling at an amazing speed. The crowd loved it , after watching the ship climb slowly for an hour this was really dramatic. The trail kept moving up until it seemed to be about 70degrees above the horizon when the engine cut off. After a few minutes with everybody searching the sky for the craft *boom*, a little sonic boom let loose and the ship then appeared. It circled around a few times on its way down and met up with the chase planes. They all flew in a pretty tight formation and the ship finally made an amazingly smooth landing considering it was an unpowered odd looking bulbous craft. Everybody was ecstatic as SpaceShipOne rolled by, this odd looking craft had reached the edge of space and had made it back in one piece. After that, the low altitude chase plane made a flyby, which was pretty cool but then the topper was when White Night flew towards the crowd then pulled up proudly displaying it's bizarre silouette.

    I'm really really happy that I got to have this experience. This amazing flight was the first time in my 19 years that I felt that I was actually witnessing history being made with my own eyes.
  • by sllim ( 95682 ) <achance&earthlink,net> on Monday June 21, 2004 @02:15PM (#9486554)
    Sending this out to my friends, to celebrate today, June 21'st, a milestone in aviation history.

    Anyone that knows me knows that aviation is my thing. So it should be no surprise to anyone that I am following this.
    I was sitting here contemplating what happened today, and for only the 1 millionth time since I learned of this venture I was struck by how purely good this news is. I mean, you turn on CNN or Fox, you pick up the newspapers or whatever and they are filled with this negative crap. So much more these last few months, and for no better reason then 2004 can be divided evenly by 4.

    But this, I am hard pressed to see how anyone can put a negative spin on this.

    In the fall of the year 1903 The Brothers Wright made a flight of just a few hundered feet in a wooden and canvas contraption that would change the world. They would have been hard pressed to have imagined what there hard work would lead to. These Brothers did this thing of there own accord, they had no help, no government hand outs, no proclamations from the president that a thing will be done because it is hard, just two brothers that owned a bycicle shop and had a thought about how to make this thing work.

    A mere 60 years later that creation had blossomed into the likes of which the Wright Brothers would never have imagined. People that had picked up the newspapers in 1903 to read about this marvelous flying machine were now turning on the TV sets and tunning in the radio to learn of Sputnik and rocket ships. Space travel was hard, but our society had marked it as a necessity. As a society we knew we could achieve the impossible, setting foot on the moon, photographing continents and solving communication problems that had plagued mankind since the dark ages. But getting there would not be cheap, and it was decided that only a government could afford to solve this problem.

    In the 70's humans would set there feet on the moon. A place that has for the entirety of humanity, been nothing but a backdrop in an inkjet sky turned into a land of wonders. Armstrong said his famous words, left his footprints, astronauts would play a bit of golf, mirrors would be left, flags planted and after about a decade we would leave that place as we found it, inaccessable - a land where we only talk of going.

    And now today. Burt Rutan designs airplanes. Up until today his most famous creation is displayed in the Smithsonian. It is called 'Voyager' and it traveled around the globe non-stop without refuleing. You may not be impressed, but consider how much money you will spend in gas just to get to work this week, it was quite an achievment.

    Burt Rutan has built a spacecraft that he has called 'Spaceship One'. It is a small, quaint thing that CNN describes as shaped like a 'shuttlecock'. As accurate a description as any I have heard. Today Mike Melvill piloted Spaceship One, with the help of it's mate 'White Knight' and slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and returned again. What it did, admittedly, by the standards of shuttle flights that until last year seemed to be monthly occurances, doesn't seem that spectacular. It leapt a mere 100 kilometers (62 miles) and came down again. Landing at the same Mohave airstrip it took off from. But when Mike came back had the distinction of being the only person ever to earn his astronaut wings without any government help whatsoever.

    Take a few minutes today and Google 'Gemini Series'. This is what Burt Rutans craft is compareable to. The early Gemini rockets did not achieve orbit. The went up, and came back down again. Then go to or google 'Spaceship One' and compare the crafts. What you are looking at isn't just what 50+ years of technology advances will get you. But you are also looking at is a clear illustration of how the private sector (Wright Brothers) can often shatter paradigms that the government has put in place.

    Congratulations Burt and Mike. Today is your day.

"The Avis WIZARD decides if you get to drive a car. Your head won't touch the pillow of a Sheraton unless their computer says it's okay." -- Arthur Miller