Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Look Back - SpaceShipOne First Space Flight

As long as we're on the subject of space vehicles, there was one significant space-related event I did manage to witness in person. That was Scaled Composites' first flight into space with their X-Prize entry, SpaceShipOne. The Ansari X-Prize was a contest set up to stimulate private venture expansion into space. The first team that could successfully launch a vehicle to a 100 kilometer altitude (about 60 miles high), land and relaunch within a two week span would win the $10 million prize. On 27 June 2004, Burt Rutan's team at Scaled Composites completed SpaceShipOne's flight test phase by taking the craft to an altitude of 62 miles. They would later win the prize with successful back-to-back flights on 29 September and 4 October 2004. Incidentally, 4 October was the 47th anniversary of the Soviet's launch of the first man-made satellite, Sputnik.

I was fortunate enough to see that June test flight. It was like a giant block party at the Mojave Airport home of Scaled Composites, just down the road from historic Edwards AFB. Thousands of people showed up in the wee hours of the morning to witness the dawn takeoff of the White Knight mothership, with SpaceShipOne hanging from its belly (above photo). After reaching launch altitude, White Knight released SpaceShipOne and the small craft ignited its rocket motor and streaked upwards. Aside from a control glitch which caused the vehicle to corkscrew through several revolutions on its ascent, the flight was deemed a success as it broke 62 miles, the first privately built and sponsored spacecraft to do so. The smooth landing, as seen in the photo below, signaled the start of a grand celebration by all on the ground as we all knew we had seen history made that morning. It was truly glorious!

1 comment:

  1. Tony I hope you get to see a bunch of private launches- Richard Branson bought in big-Is is "Virgin Space" like "Virgin Air"?