Los Angeles, CA, June 21, 2004 The Space Frontier Foundation declared the successful flight of Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne a clear sign that a New American Space Age has begun. The flight, which occurred this morning above Mojave, California, culminated in the first American ever to fly in space on a private American spacecraft when the vehicle crossed the 100km (62 miles) boundary recognized by most experts as the edge of space.
Pilot Mike Melville sits atop SpaceShipOne after his history making flight. Photo courtesy Scaled Composites.
The flight of SpaceShipOne is one of the most important moments in history, said Foundation Founder Rick Tumlinson. Like the flight of Charles Lindberg across the Atlantic, or Gagarin when he became the first person to enter space, it heralds a new reality for humankind. Why? Because this is the day a new space age begins an age when the people begin to enter space on their own, without governments.
The Foundation believes the flight is the beginning of the hand-off from the government monopolized Lewis and Clark phase of exploration of near Earth space to private citizens who can now begin to explore and utilize space for themselves. The group points to a string of events as indicators of this new space age, from the commercial take over of the Mir space station which led to the flight of Dennis Tito, the first citizen to buy a ticket into space, to the creation of the X Prize that stimulated Rutan and dozens of other teams to build rocketships like SpaceShipOne.
Yes, astronauts have been flying into space for over thirty years, Tumlinson acknowledged. But they were government employees, operating within a narrow and often short term government agenda. Whether for national prestige, as when we went to the Moon, or for science or advanced research, this is different. Rutan and the others following him have a far different goal in mind. They want to really open the frontier to all of us.
The Foundation, a long time proponent of efforts like Rutan's, sees plans to use vehicles like his to carry paying passengers into space as a breakthrough which will lead to ever more commercial activities in space, a critical element for expanding civilization beyond Earth. In the short term, it hopes that this flight will begin to change the psychology of space in people's minds, most of who still think of space in terms of government programs.
This flight was about dreams, it was about what we, as individual people working together and empowered by a shared vision can accomplish. said Tumlinson. It was about us giving ourselves permission to dream that we too, outside of the vast and powerful machine of government, can do incredible things. You used to have to become an astronaut, or spend millions to enter space and then you were made fun of by being labeled a mere tourist. SpaceShipOne's pilot has changed all that, and you certainly can't call him a tourist!
He concluded: Think about it, the day before this flight, the door to space could only be opened with a key held by the most powerful governments on Earth, the day after today that door has been blown off its hinges.
For more information on SpaceShipOne, visit the Scaled Composites web site at: