Thursday, September 30, 2004

1 down, 1 to go

Yesterday was a great day for the space cadets of the world.

Burt Rutan's record-breaking SpaceShipOne dropped from the underside of the White Knight mothership and made it to the edge of space yesterday, but not after a heart-stopping few seconds during which the craft spun wildly as it accelerated straight up atop a column of flame. Pilot Mike Melvill shut down the rocket engine a few seconds early, and used the ship's reaction control system to slow the spin rate and prepare for re-entry. The ship then made a textbook descent and safely glided back to the same runway from which it had taken off earlier that morning.

In a sign of how far our media-centric world has evolved, I watched the event in a window in the corner of my computer screen while I continued my usual researching and writing exploits elsewhere on my monitor. The webcast included footage from all vantage points, including the wings of the vehicle and the cockpit. Here's an amazing photo montage from the Scaled Composites craft's first record-breaking flight to the edge of space last June.

For a geek, yesterday's flight was a totally cool thing to see, and easily qualifies as one of those where-were-you moments. It evoked the spirit of the aviation pioneers of the last century, whose daring and often sacrificial push into the unknown gave us routine air travel today.

My fingers remain crossed that the second qualifying flight for the Ansari X Prize - which could possibly go as early as this Sunday or Monday - has a similar happy ending, and that the future of private space flight helps make life back on the surface of the planet a little better.

Watching the convergence of brilliance at work yesterday, it was easy to believe that this is exactly how this unfolding adventure will play out.


Kate said...

I got a little emotional watching some of the news coverage. Such a cool thing, the X Prize.

Jenny said...

That was SO cool. I was enthralled.