The world witnessed the dawn of a new space age, as investor and philanthropist Paul G. Allen and Scaled Composites launched the first private manned vehicle (pictured above) beyond the Earth's atmosphere. The successful launch demonstrated that the final frontier is now open to private enterprise.
Under the command of test pilot Mike Melvill, SpaceShipOne reached a record breaking altitude of 328,491 feet (approximately 62 miles or 100 km), making Melvill the first civilian to fly a spaceship out of the atmosphere and the first private pilot to earn astronaut wings.
"This flight begins an exciting new era in space travel," said Paul G. Allen, sole sponsor in the SpaceShipOne program. "Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites are part of a new generation of explorers who are sparking the imagination of a huge number of people worldwide and ushering in the birth of a new industry of privately funded manned space flight."
The historic flight also marks the first time an aerospace program has successfully completed a manned mission without government sponsorship. “Today's flight marks a critical turning point in the history of aerospace,” said Scaled Composites founder and CEO Burt Rutan. “ We have redefined space travel as we know it.”
The historic flight also marks the first time an aerospace program has successfully completed a manned mission without government sponsorship. "Today's flight marks a critical turning point in the history of aerospace," said Scaled Composites founder and CEO Burt Rutan. "We have redefined space travel as we know it."
"Our success proves without question that manned space flight does not require mammoth government expenditures," Rutan declared. "It can be done by a small company operating with limited resources and a few dozen dedicated employees."
A large crowd watched the momentous flight live from the grounds of the Mojave Airport in California, joining millions of others around the world who tuned in by television, radio, and the internet. Dignitaries attending the event included U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher; the Commanding Officer of Edwards Air Force Base General Pearson; China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center's Admiral Venlet; former astronaut Buzz Aldrin; and Konrad Dannenberg, one of Werner Von Braun's lead scientists on this country's original space development effort. Hundreds of media representatives were also on hand to record history in the making.
SpaceShipOne is not like the most other spaceships you may have seen. It was not launched aimed straight up into the sky, either, like the Space Shuttle or other space rockets. It did not even take off on its own. It was attached to another aircraft named the White Knight. White Knight took off from the Mojave airport like an airplane takes off. SpaceShipOne was attached to the belly of White Knight. When the White Knight reached an altitude of about 50,000 feet, SpaceShipOne separated from White Knight. When SpaceShipOne was a safe distance away from White Knight, pilot Mike Melvill started the engine and propelled the craft into space. SpaceShipOne spent 3 minutes in space before reentering Earth's atmosphere. In all, this historic civilian space flight lasted a little longer than an hour.