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If there were any hitches, they weren't apparent from the viewing stand. They hit the apogee of at least a hundred kilometers, and had a smooth entry and landing. I took some pictures, but until I can figure out how to get them onto a big screen, I won't know if they were any good, or worth posting. If you watched live on television or webcast, I'm sure that the pros did a better job than me (if for no other reason than they have much better equipment.

The question now is what effect, short and long term, this will have on the growing prospects for this new liberating industry. XCOR has gotten a lot of good publicity out of this. Here's hoping it means investors as well. And we still await announcements from Paul Allen and Richard Branson about future plans.

[Update at 9 AM PDT]

Leonard David has filed his report from Mojave.

[Another update]

Here's a copy editor for whom the president's new initiative can't come a moment too soon. The San Francisco Chronicle says that SpaceShipOne made it all the way to the atmosphere. [Hat tip to Orbital Mind-Control Laser]

[Another update]

I should mention that Dale Amon has been describing this over at Samizdata as well.

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 21, 2004 08:44 AM
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Good Summaries
Excerpt: A quick note from Rand Simberg and a full-blown news story from Leonard David, both of whom got to watch it all happen from Mojave....
Weblog: The Speculist
Tracked: June 21, 2004 09:20 AM
Pushing the (bureaucratic) envelope
Excerpt: Rand Simberg, who attended the launch of SpaceShip One:If there were any hitches, they weren't apparent from the viewing stand. They hit the apogee of at least a hundred kilometers, and had a smooth entry and landing. [...] The question...
Weblog: protein wisdom
Tracked: June 21, 2004 09:27 AM
SpaceShipOne lives up to its name!
Excerpt: "...almost a religious experience..."-Mike Melville, the world's first private astronaut Melville, in a private space ship--SpaceShipOne--exceeded 100 km altitude in powered flight after being released from its carrier plane, and then returned safely t...
Weblog: cerdipity
Tracked: June 21, 2004 09:53 AM
SpaceshipOne's Successful 1st Flight
Excerpt: This morning, SpaceShipOne was launched some 10 nautical miles east of Mojave, California, then hauled skyward to 47,000 feet attached to the White Knight carrier craft and released. Mike Melvill was the pilot for this historic first full flight of a p...
Weblog: Winds of Change.NET
Tracked: June 21, 2004 10:20 AM
Forever Frontier
Excerpt: I am all choked up about today's flight. How appropriate to name it SpaceShipOne. Circa 1978 I was hot to see private space launches and beyond. I imagined myself
Weblog: Accidental Verbosity
Tracked: June 21, 2004 10:57 AM
Countdown for Private Space Flight
Excerpt: THE WORLD'S FIRST privately built and operated manned spacecraft, SpaceShipOne, is scheduled to make its maiden space flight early Monday...
Weblog: The Indepundit
Tracked: June 21, 2004 12:02 PM
Dawn of a New Space Age
Excerpt: The best place to read all about it is, of course, Transterrestrial Musings. Other blogs posting on the successful test flight include Gut Rumbles, Some guy in Knoxville, Cam Edwards, mtpolitics, Read My Lips, Accidental Verbosity, Dean's World, Ip...
Weblog: blogoSFERICS
Tracked: June 21, 2004 01:51 PM
SpaceShipOne Recap
Excerpt: I hesitate to use breathless hyperbole, but today was really the dawning of a new space age, the age of private exploration and development of outer space. As Dale Amon describes it, we are now moving away from linear-growth...
Weblog: TexasBestGrok
Tracked: June 21, 2004 10:05 PM

"There will be a significant announcement during the press conference in an hour and a half", sayid Paul Allen (or maybe Burt, I didn't have the video in the foreground). Methinks they'll be announcing their X-Prize attempt date.

Posted by John at June 21, 2004 08:49 AM

Fantastic ride... Can't wait until more can be made by all...

Posted by Harold LaValley at June 21, 2004 08:53 AM

...The picture in my mind when they launched was that marvelous shot towards the end of 'The Right Stuff' when The Reporter shows up in his test pilot sunglasses and watches Gordo Cooper launch. The smile on his face reaches all the way around, and all he can do is whisper, "Go....."
We ARE going now. The only bad part about today is - and I say this as a NASA brat - is that this is pretty much the stake in NASA's heart. It will lurch around for a while yet, but it's done.

Best Regards,
Mike Kozlowski

Posted by Mike Kozlowski at June 21, 2004 09:02 AM

Rand, the big three blew it IMHO. At one point the guys on Fox asked if the Starship chase plane taking off was SpaceShipOne (of which Fox focused in on the Starship again during SSO's descent).

If you knew the program and what was going on, you were OK because you would ignore the stupid comments going on in the background. But if you had never heard of the program, I would say that while there were some interesting pictures, you would probably be more confused than anything.

Posted by Brian at June 21, 2004 09:05 AM

The webcast on MSNBC stunk. It only showed the crowd. Hope you had a nice view.

Posted by JasonH at June 21, 2004 09:34 AM

Man became a truly spacefaring species today.

I can barely believe it.

Posted by Dean Esmay at June 21, 2004 09:39 AM


Yes, PMSNBC's coverage on the webcast (and likely on TV, if it was the same feed) was abysmal at best. BBC showed the separation and burn live, even if it wasn't as clear or steady of a picture as others. BBC also stayed with it well after the touchdown, all the way through initial interviews and comments from Mike, Burt, and Paul.

As I said above, one of the last things mentioned before they wheeled off for the debriefing was that there would be "a significant announcement during the press conference" I'm not sure when that conference is scheduled, I think it's some time between 11:30 and 12:00 CDT. Wish I had a feed of that, but I think we'll only get a bunch of mis-referenced quotes after the fact on the web.

Posted by John at June 21, 2004 09:44 AM

history in the making and i never even heard they were going to launch.
The media is more wrapped up in politics than cool stuff like this. The least they could have done is tell us it was goign to happen and not after the fact.

Posted by GIJOE at June 21, 2004 10:02 AM

NASA could not change the carpet in their headquarters for 20 million. This is a very big deal.

Posted by vtrtl at June 21, 2004 10:03 AM

it is also very sad that the day of bicycle makers creating airplanes in their garages is over..
now we can only hope for multi-million dollar microsoft execs to help us into the future.

Posted by gijoe at June 21, 2004 10:05 AM


Well, this has been news since it was first announced on June 2, 2004. Multiple people I work with mentioned that they had heard about it on CNN or MSNBC this morning. FoxNews has had very little coverage before or after the fact, sadly enough.

Posted by John at June 21, 2004 10:06 AM


As far as multi-million dollar execs, Burt and Paul Allen are not the rule, they are the exception. Check out Armadillo Aerospace's website, or XCor's, or many others. Those other companies are all working independent of major financing, and have viable products, just not with the same amount of publicity that Scaled has had.

While I'm not a huge space policy advocate or anything, I've been following these things through Rand's site for some time now, and there are a LOT of other things going on with the X-Prize that you don't seem to be aware of. If you are truly interested in the X-Prize, set aside a few hours and scour the web for information. Hopefully that will help change your view about this being an elitist, no-news endeavour.

Posted by John at June 21, 2004 10:11 AM

"If you knew the program and what was going on, you were OK because you would ignore the stupid comments going on in the background. But if you had never heard of the program, I would say that while there were some interesting pictures, you would probably be more confused than anything."

The Earth Mother from North Dakota is staying at my place for a week or five. She's never _heard_ of this before last week, and watched the thing from beginning to end on both my computer and the TV. She didn't sound very confused, imho.

She did think the chase plane (taking off) was 'it' but once WK rotated the confusion cleared for her.

Your mileage may vary of course.

Posted by Brian at June 21, 2004 10:12 AM

Heh he, it looks like Bill Gates was already up there...

Bill Gates Applauds the Success of SpaceshipOne

Of special note, Allen's former partner, Bill Gates, was glad he had a front row seat to the momentous events. "It was so cute," Gates stated from the office of his 37 room Space Station named Global Dominance 4, located 88 miles above Seattle in geosynchronous orbit. "His little ship just zoomed right on up here like one of those little scooters or BMW Mini's. And then it just fell right back down."

Gates added his admiration for Paul Allen's efforts, "I am so proud of Paul. I remember my first space flight in 1997, and it is truly an incomparable feeling. Almost as good as walking around on the moon or killing a street bum, or taking a street bum up to the moon and then killing him." Gates added," Maybe one day, if Paul ever gets a real spaceship, he can spend a weekend up here with me, Melinda and the kids."


Posted by ag at June 21, 2004 10:19 AM

Lucky. F'in' lucky.

The airframe buckled under thrust, but didn't go all the way to failure. Watch the reports over the coming days, and we'll see just how close today's success came to tragic disaster.

The next pilot that goes up gets my "balls of steel" award, unless they make serious retrofits to the underlying structure. An event like this (buckling) points to either bad engineering (i.e. miscalculation of thrust loads with the new nozzle), bad maintenance (cracks that had developed that were not discovered during previous inspections), or bad quality control (such as too much thrust from poorly packed propellant).

I know it's experimental; so don't go off about that, but they better cross the Ts and dot the Is if you're going to go big time public.

Kudos to the entire team, just the same.

Posted by Dave G at June 21, 2004 12:23 PM

Dave G:

Where did you find this info?


Posted by Randy Campbell at June 21, 2004 12:33 PM

From all of the press releases and reports, Melvill heard a "boom" that appears to be a slight buckling of a fairing piece by the thruster nozzle:

"And it wasn't all smooth, either: Melvill said he was surprised by the rocket rush, even though he had reached an altitude of 40 miles during SpaceShipOne's previous flight in May, and he heard a series of booms apparently caused by the buckling of a fairing that was added to the rocket plane's engine nozzle for this record-setting flight."

However, I haven't seen anything to suggest that anything was wrong with the main structural airframe of the vehicle, only this fairing piece. The buckling is public knowledge (to the extent that has been told by Melvill), but I didn't read anything that there was nearly the damage suggested by Dave G., or that Melvill was in any more danger than on his 40 mile altitude flight.

Posted by John at June 21, 2004 01:00 PM

The word "buckled" was used by the BBC on their website:

Rutan also made it sound more serious in the press conference, again referring to the BBC account.

Rand, your opinion is valuable, since you're actually looking at it, but doesn't a "buckled" section anywhere on the craft imply unexpectedly high stresses?

Just my opinion as an old-time aerospace engineer. I hope that it does turn out to be nothing major. But, these things take time to analyze, and my point was to watch for more info and a clearer understanding in the days ahead.

Posted by Dave G at June 21, 2004 02:03 PM

I didn't see much of it this morning before heading out to work. I did catch a glimpse of the ascent phase of spaceshipone. It pretty much struck me right off that there appeared to be quite a bit of vibration occuring around the engine faring. The article that Rand linked to mentioned the booming sound and that there was a peice of something hanging out of the left side landing gear door. As with left handed people I guess left hand landing gears are evil.

Posted by Hefty at June 21, 2004 02:06 PM

I was at Mojave this morning, and my first reaction was WOW. Sorry the TV sucked, but we had a great view. One problem with the separation that might have affected this was that separation occurred while the spacecraft was about 5-10 degrees directly beneath the sun as one looked east from the viewing area. The contrail then went vertical, bisecting the sun, and was up, up and away in nearly no time. A bit of a pain, though for anyone tracking with binoculars or trying to get proper camer exposure.

Posted by Kevin Murphy at June 21, 2004 02:12 PM

'At a post-landing press briefing, the 63-year old Melvill described a series of technical snags that haunted his record-setting flight. Right after motor ignition, the pilot said the craft rolled 90 degrees to the left, then 90 degrees to the right. "It has never ever done that before," he explained.'

I think there will be some delay before a certain Xprize attempt is made. Looks like another checkout flight before that happens. Still, kudos to Scaled.

Posted by Ron Jarrell at June 21, 2004 02:49 PM

Re : Coverage:

Thanks to CNBC (who covered the take-off live, unlike CNN and BBC), CNN (who covered the separation live, unlike CNBC and the BBC), and BBC World (who along with the other two, covered the landing live) I got to see SpaceShip One complete her mission. Took a bit of channel-surfing from 2330 to 0130, but we got there in the end.

Re : Problems:
A loud bang Melvill heard during the flight appeared to be a nonessential part of the composite airframe buckling near the rocket nozzle. The slight indention in SpaceShipOne's exterior did not affect the craft's performance.
More on the problems at my blog.

Posted by Alan E Brain at June 21, 2004 08:43 PM

On coverage: Our local newspaper, with pretty spotty coverage on technical subjects, has had several articles on this project. I saw quite a bit about it on TV and online as well.

On damage: It was mentioned that a fairing had been added late in the design. I *think* this was the part that had the damage. Hopefully non-critical and easy to reinforce.

Posted by VR at June 22, 2004 12:41 AM

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