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US edges closer to private space flight

SpaceShipOne reaches 64km

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SpaceShipOneBurt Rutan and his SpaceShipOne team have taken another step towards claiming the $10m Ansari X-prize for the first private space vehicle.

Pilot Mike Melvill yesterday took the vehicle to 64km (211,000ft) above the Mojave desert. To claim the bounty, Rutan's Scaled Composites must fly the craft to 100km (329,000ft), return safely to earth and repeat the whole procedure within two weeks.

It now seems likely that SpaceShip One will be first past the post, thereby "jumpstarting the space tourism industry", as the X-prize website puts it. However, we reckon you'll have to have pretty deep pockets for a quick jaunt, despite what Scaled Composites claims:

Our goal is to demonstrate that non-government manned space flight operations are not only feasible, but can be done at very low costs. Safety, of course is paramount, but minimum cost is critical. We look to the future, hopefully within ten years, when ordinary people, for the cost of a luxury cruise, can experience a rocket flight into the black sky above the earth's atmosphere, enjoy a few minutes of weightless excitement, then feel the thunderous deceleration of the aerodynamic drag on entry.

We hope that the company is not using Scaled Composites' backer Paul Allen - who's not short of a bob or two - as a yardstick by which to measure "ordinary people". After all, if we mere mortals can't have our flying car, then a bit of "thunderous deceleration" would go some way to numbing the pain of disappointment. ®

Related sites

Scaled Composites
Ansari X-prize

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Europe space shuttle passes first test
FAA greenlights private spaceship
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