The first privately funded manned space flight occurred today (June 21, 2004). The space craft and mother ship were designed by Burt Rutan (of Voyager fame), while funding was provided by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The cost of the program was about $20 million dollars, compared to around $0.5 billion per space shuttle launch.

From the Scaled Composites website:

The world witnessed the dawn of a new space age today, as investor and philanthropist Paul G. Allen and Scaled Composites launched the first private manned vehicle beyond the Earth’s atmosphere. The successful launch demonstrated that the final frontier is now open to private enterprise.

Under the command of test pilot Mike Melvill, SpaceShipOne reached a record breaking altitude of 328,491 feet (approximately 62 miles or 100 km), making Melvill the first civilian to fly a spaceship out of the atmosphere and the first private pilot to earn astronaut wings.

This flight begins an exciting new era in space travel,” said Paul G. Allen, sole sponsor in the SpaceShipOne program. “Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites are part of a new generation of explorers who are sparking the imagination of a huge number of people worldwide and ushering in the birth of a new industry of privately funded manned space flight.”

The historic flight also marks the first time an aerospace program has successfully completed a manned mission without government sponsorship. “Today’s flight marks a critical turning point in the history of aerospace,” said Scaled Composites founder and CEO Burt Rutan. ” We have redefined space travel as we know it.”

“Our success proves without question that manned space flight does not require mammoth government expenditures,” Rutan declared. “It can be done by a small company operating with limited resources and a few dozen dedicated employees.”

A large crowd watched the momentous flight live from the grounds of the Mojave Airport, joining millions of others around the world who tuned in by television, radio, and the internet. Dignitaries attending the event included U.S. Representative Dana Rohrabacher, the Commanding Officer of Edwards Air Force Base, General Pearson and the China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center, Admiral Venlet; former astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and Konrad Dannenberg, one of Werner Von Braun’s lead scientists on this country’s original space development effort. Hundreds of media representatives were also on hand to record history in the making.

Writes CM reader Christopher Lewis Baines:

I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Rutan speak last year at the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) 2003 AirVenture airshow. Mr. Rutan gave his speech in an ailing aircraft hanger during a thunderstorm.

Needless to say, the room was packed with people eager to hear about his plan for space exploration. Rutan talked about the need for private enterprise in space travel, and he made it clear to the audience that the government’s monopoly on space travel must end if they ever wish to visit space in their lifetimes.

Rutan blamed the government’s bureaucracy in space travel for the slow pace of private development. He stated that the profit motive was needed in order to make space travel for the masses a reality. Rutan believes we should visit space for fun and think of practical applications and safety later, as the great aviators did with aviation during the early 20th Century. Rutan worries that young people today no longer have heroes to look up to.

Feeling synergy with the audience, Rutan proclaimed “We don’t care about those Liberals do we”.

The audience cheered.

From  Cox and Forkum

Recommended Reading:

A Radical Solution to America’s Moribund Space Program by Robert Garmong
After years of declining budgets, public apathy, and failed missions, NASA has gotten a big boost from the Bush Administration’s recent promises of extravagant missions to permanently settle the moon and eventually explore Mars. No one knows what it would cost, but a similar idea in 1989 was estimated to cost up to $500 billion.

Privatize the Space Program by Robert Garmong
The space program is a political animal, marked by shifting, inconsistent and ill-defined goals.

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