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Mon, Jun 21, 2004

Let's Light This Candle!

SpaceShipOne Ready For Launch

Scaled Composite's Burt Rutan expects thousands of people to swarm into the Mojave Desert Monday for his company's test-run at the Ansari X-Prize. If all goes according to plan, SpaceShipOne should carry one person to a height of 100 kilometers -- 62 miles -- in a suborbital rehearsal for the $10 million prize flight.

"We are encouraging people to come and bring kids," said Rutan. "We fly to space directly over the crowd instead of going way down range, and it lands back in the same place like a small, light plane at a private airport."

The whole world will be watching. "If Burt Rutan can do it with a couple of dozen people, there will be a lot of investment," said Rutan in an interview with the Washington Post. "In 12 to 15 years, we'll have suborbital space tourism that costs as much as a luxury cruise, and very soon after that, you'll be able to spend your vacation in orbit."

Monday's test flight is the final precursor to Scaled's attempt to meet the requirements of the Ansari X-Prize and collect the $10 million prize. To win, Scaled has to put three people on board SpaceShipOne and fly them to the same altitude of 62 miles. His is one of 27 teams vying for the top honors in a competition modeled after the time-distance-payload contests that popped up during the "Golden Age" of flight.

"If you can prove you can do this safely, you're opening a new industry," Kevin Marvel, deputy executive officer of the American Astronautical Society, said in a telephone interview. "It's real, it makes sense, and it's looking way forward. When I first heard about it I thought, yeah, right, but they've convinced me."

ANN's Jim Campbell and photo guru Tyson Rininger are on the scene in Mojave and will provide up-to-the-minute coverage of the SpaceShipOne event.

FMI: www.scaled.com

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