The X-Prize is won, with just under three months to spare
October 4, 2004
So here we are in Mojave again,
for space flight number three. It's starting to feel like I'm a member
of some sort of erratically-meeting sleep-deprivation club. Although there
are a lot more people in town (including a reported 750 accredited members
of the press) somehow preflight it seems more subdued and quieter in town
overnight than it was for the first X-Prize flight.
There is almost no wind at all when I arrive about 4:20 AM in the dirt
parking lot which serves as the press area. It's a good thing too since
there is so much commotion and the sheer numbers of people, cables and
vehicles going to and fro would have been a wall of dust if it were windy.
750 media people sure do come with a lot of baggage!
The rollout down the runway takes place when the sky is barely pink. Things
seem to be happening very fast this morning, or maybe it's just that I've
been able to snag not one but two cups of coffee. As the vehicles climb
out and occasionally glint overhead I wonder aloud to another reporter
what Brian Binnie is thinking up there. We agree that more than likely
he is fully occupied with the mechanics of flying and won't have much
time to think until later. So in our own brief silences we think about
things - probably too much - on his behalf.
After the speedy rollout, the climb seemed to take a long time. In the
hiatus, I talk to a few reporters for non-aerospace publications. Is the
entrepreneurial space community taken seriously by the general public?
Responses are thoughtful (and mixed).
Finally it's time to fire the rocket engine. XPrize staffer Catriona Linton
unknowingly helped me out by expertly blocking the sun. The small contrail
is the chase plane; the Y- shaped large one is White Knight and SpaceShipOne.
We've never seen such clear contrails - it was still pretty much calm
on the ground, astonishing for Mojave.
From this point out, waves of cheering reached us in the media area as
the various milestones were met and announced, and finally as the little
armada of vehicles flew over us on the way down and swept into their final
turn. Once on the ground, there were more speeches and awards than other
times (and the addition to the mix of Sir Richard Branson, in the white
shirt.) Champagne was opened (and spilled!) after the vehicle was towed
to our press enclave.
Finally, the vehicles safely put away, it was time to sightsee a bit before
going home. Models of some of the other X-Prize vehicles had been set
up, and just to top things off the Global Flyer was on display - the vehicle
Branson is having Scaled make to go around the world again.
See also Joan's reports on the June
21, 2004 flight (first time a privately built and financed
manned vehicle reached space) and the SS1's
first X PRIZE flight.