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Rutan bagsies 'shotgun' in SpaceShipOne

Pioneering engineer space-bound?

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Burt Rutan, the pioneering aviation engineer behind the SpaceShipOne mission, has hinted that he will be aboard the vehicle when it makes its next flight in a bid to become the first commercially-funded craft to leave the Earth's atmosphere.

To qualify for the $10m Ansari X-Prize, the craft must make two trips to an altitude of 100km, carrying ballast equivalent to two passengers. Both journeys must be made within a two-week period. The first leg of that journey is scheduled for 29 September.

Speaking to BBC Online Rutan said that the team hadn't decided whether some of that ballast would be replaced by him during one of the attempts, but that he will be "one of the first passengers, for sure".

On 21 June, when the team made their first flight into space, the craft was piloted by Mike Melvill. Along with Rutan, Melvill is responsible for the design of the craft. Upon landing, he told the press that the experience was "mind blowing", but that he probably ought to back off a little bit now and ride his bike instead.

Three pilots have trained for the next attempt and Rutan says a decision about who would be taking the controls would be made in the next two or three weeks. ®

SpaceShipOne is part-funded by Paul Allen, co-founder of, and long since cashed out of, Microsoft.

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