Just back from covering the first private manned space flight in history. It was a beautiful event, really, and a busy 38 hours spent driving down to the launch site in Mojave, California, attending a press conference on the launch of SpaceShipOne, driving to our motel 25 miles away, writing, sleeping four hours, getting up, driving to the launch site, talking to folks, watching the launch, writing, going to another press conference, writing, and driving back to Berkeley. Kate came along and acted as aide de freelancer and commiserator in chief and solutions czar(ina) during my freqent tech crises (motel DSL, nonworking cellphones, etc.).
What reading about and seeing pictures of SpaceShipOne and its carrier plane (somewhat dorkily called the White Knight) hadn’t prepared me for was how beautifully unusual they are. I likened the White Knight to a giant dragonfly; someone else said it looks like it’s an origami plane. The impression it gives is fragility, but during a post-launch fly-by it did a roaring brief climb to show that it’s a real honest-to-goodness gutsy jet plane.
The launch process is a long one: It takes the carrier plane a full hour to get to the 50,000-foot launch altitude, and the whole time the aircraft are circling the airport. The ships are both white, so what you see looks like a seagull wheeling higher and higher into the heavens. Eventually, the carrier plane leaves a gently arcing contrail in the perfectly clear blue desert sky. It’s space and technology, but there’s plenty of poetry in this launch system, too.
My stories on the flight — a successful one and a true milestone in aviation history, are on the Wired News site: