Monday, June 21, 2004

Private craft soars into space, history: "Test pilot Mike Melvill landed at Mojave Airport, about 80 miles north of Los Angeles, California, after taking the rocket plane SpaceShipOne to an altitude of more than 100 kilometers (62.5 miles)—the internationally recognized boundary of space."

"SpaceShipOne lifted off early Monday morning in the Mojave Desert, carried by the jet White Knight. As the pair approached 50,000 feet, SpaceShipOne decoupled from the jet. After a brief glide, Melvill ignited the spacecraft's engines and ascended into space at Mach 3, three times the speed of sound.

"Melvill said once he reached weightlessness, he opened a bag of M&M's in the cockpit, and the candies floated for three minutes while the ship soared high above California."

"Rutan's company, Scaled Composites, built SpaceShipOne with financial backing from Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft Corp., for a little more than $20 million. Rutan said the flight, which went from a concept in 1995 to reality less than a decade later, was the realization of a long dream."

"Scaled Composites is one of 24 companies from several countries competing for the X Prize, which will go to the first privately funded group to send three people on a suborbital flight 62.5 miles high and repeat the feat within two weeks using the same vehicle."

"The nonprofit X Prize Foundation is sponsoring the contest to promote the development of a low-cost, efficient craft for space tourism in the same way prize competitions stimulated commercial aviation in the early 20th century." The prize is fully funded through January 1, 2005.

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