June 21, 2004

SpaceShipOne Recap


I hesitate to use breathless hyperbole, but today was really the dawning of a new space age, the age of private exploration and development of outer space. As Dale Amon describes it, we are now moving away from linear-growth government programs to exponential-growth entrepreneurialism. Maybe I will get to space sometime in my life, after all.

I don't have cable or satellite TV, and I couldn't get Real Player to work worth a flip on my work computer, so I missed the live video coverage of the event. Based on my morning channel-surfing, the three network morning "news" programs were asleep at the switch, reporting on Bill Clinton's post-affair sleeping arrangements instead of this. Kudos to the local Fox affiliate for carrying a substantial amount of live pre-launch coverage (and though I didn't see it, they were promising to bring live footage of the flight, too).

From what I've seen and read, the flight was successful though not flawless. There were some kinks to work out, but overall this was a momentous occasion.

For web coverage of space issues, it's always a great idea to start with Rand Simberg, and today was no exception. In a later post, he links to this great play-by-play from Kevin Murphy.

One of my favorite Australians, Alan Brain, also has a good account of the flight, along with some coverage of the difficulties alluded to above.

Spaceflight Now also has a nice play-by-play status log of the flight.

The mainstream media also did a fine job covering the event on the Internet in more detail than I expected based on the lack of interest by the major broadcast media in the US.

Whether or not they win the X-Prize, Scaled Composites have broken down the "giggle factor" barrier to private investment in space. What a great feeling - a "magic day when super-science mingles with the bright stuff of dreams" as described in the Rush song Countdown (lyrics in the extended entry):

Words by Neil Peart, Music by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson
Dedicated with thanks to astronauts Young & Crippen and all the people of NASA for their inspiration and cooperation (RUSH were present at the maiden liftoff of Columbia in 1981).

Lit up with anticipation
We arrive at the launching site
The sky is still dark, nearing dawn
On the Florida coastline

Circling choppers slash the night
With roving searchlight beams
This magic day when super-science
Mingles with the bright stuff of dreams

Floodlit in the hazy distance
The star of this unearthly show
Venting vapours, like the breath
Of a sleeping white dragon

Crackling speakers, voices tense
Resume the final count
All systems check, T minus nine
As the sun and the drama start to mount

The air is charged --- a humid, motionless mass
The crowds and the cameras,
The cars full of spectators pass
Excitement so thick --- you could cut it with a knife
Technology --- high, on the leading edge of life

The earth beneath us starts to tremble
With the spreading of a low black cloud
A thunderous roar shakes the air
Like the whole world exploding

Scorching blast of golden fire
As it slowly leaves the ground
Tears away with a mighty force
The air is shattered by the awesome sound

Like a pillar of cloud, the smoke lingers
High in the air
In fascination --- with the eyes of the world
We stare...

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