October 04, 2004

Soaring weightless, coming home

SpaceShipOne is today the unofficial winner of the Ansari X Prize:

SpaceShipOne achieved its most spectacular flight yet, climbing to an altitude of 364,000 feet (70 miles), eight miles beyond what was needed to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

X Prize officials said it set an altitude record exceeding the military X-15's top altitude of 354,200 feet (67 miles) set on August 22, 1963.

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Good news for Paul Allen, Burt Rutan, and Scaled Composites, though I am mildly disappointed, because the home team was also a contender.

Ironically - or not, perhaps; how would I know what sort of planning went into this? - October 4 is also the anniversary of the launch of Sputnik I in 1957, the shot that started the space race in earnest. Will SpaceShipOne's success have a similar effect on private and commercial space development, or will it merely become a footnote in the history of aviation? Time will tell.

See also Space.com's full coverage.

Update: NASA is also reporting the death today of astronaut Gordon Cooper at the age of 77. Cooper was one of the original seven Mercury astronauts:

"As one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, Gordon Cooper was one of the faces of America's fledgling space program. He truly portrayed the right stuff, and he helped gain the backing and enthusiasm of the American public, so critical for the spirit of exploration. My thoughts and prayers are with Gordon's family during this difficult time," said NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe.

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