SpaceShipOne, America's first-ever private spaceship, soared into space yesterday for its second flight and to complete its first leg of the ten million dollar challenge.
The second launch did have some tense moments, though. Once the ship detatched from the jet White Knight and fired its main engines, SpaceShipOne began to roll and spiral upward. There were calls to abort, and no doubt if this was a NASA operation the pilot would have ejected and self-destructed the ship. But this was a private operation, and civilian astronaut Mike Melvill - a seasoned test pilot - kept the roll under control, and then cut the main engine once he knew the ship had enough momentum to escape Earth's atomosphere. He stabilized the ship, snapped some beautiful pictures, and then coast the ship back to Earth at Mach 3. (That's the speed, guys, not the razor.)
The whole thing from takeoff and spectacular launch to a gentle landing was over in a matter of two hours. SpaceShipOne reached a stable altitude of 64 miles above the planet's surface, two miles into space. Now all they have to do is repeat this feat within two weeks to win the Ansari X Prize. Their next flight is scheduled for October 4th, on the anniversary of the launch of the Sputnik satillite by the Soviet Union back in 1957. No, that date wasn't a coincidence.
But I hope people bear in mind that this was the SECOND civilian space-launch that wasn't flawless, but still succeeded. And where's NASA? Still on hold.
Hey, I have an idea... maybe after SpaceShipOne wins the X Prize, Melvill can take the ship back up one more time to pay the International Space Station a visit? Maybe send up some food and ask if they want their laundry taken care of? I'm sure the paper-pushers running NASA would freak out over that!
Oh, by the way, did you know that the Ansari X Prize was based on a challenge made in the 1920's? It's true. It was a challenge to promote the further use of airplanes. That challenge was successfully met by Charles Lindberg when he piloted The Spirit of St. Louis nonstop across the Atlantic in 1927. Lindberg's legendary flight caused a tremendous surge in air travel. The promoters of the X Prize hope that the same will apply with private, non-government space travel.
Science fiction made real. And its about time too. Now if only someone can do something about those flying cars that we were promised....