EAA AirVenture Crowd Hears Legendary Designer And First Private
Astronaut Describe Space Shot
By ANN Contributor Christopher Armstrong
It didn't take billions of dollars to accomplish and the man at
the controls started out as a homebuilt pilot. In the end, Scaled
Composites' honcho Burt Rutan and SpaceShipOne pilot Mike Melvill
did what NASA and Alan Shephard did more than 40 years ago. They
sent a small ship -- albeit briefly -- into space.
Thursday evening at the EAA AirVenture Theater In The Woods,
designer Burt Rutan and pilot Mike Melvill described their historic
June 21 flight to an overflow crowd.
After introducing Rutan and Melvill, EAA President Tom Poberezny
left the stage, but Melvill called him back and told him "Tommy, I
have something for you." When Poberezny returned to the stage,
Melvill presented him and EAA with a plaque to which someone had
affixed a twenty dollar bill. Melvill had carried that particular
bill into space on the first SpaceShipOne flight to reach the 100
KM altitude generally considered to be the boundary of space.
Rutan briefly described the Global Flyer program before Melvill
joined him on stage. Once Poberezny exited the stage, Rutan and
Melvill amazed the crowed with an extremely detailed account of the
space shot. They showed a video detailing the flight, from the
morning briefing to the FAA's award of Melvill's commercial
astronaut wings, the first ever.
Melvill described the physical sensations and powerful emotions
of his amazing flight. He said that during the long climb to
altitude, he wanted to talk to someone -- a little conversation to
help him stay relaxed. "But for some reason, no one wanted to talk
to me," said Melvill.
After SpaceShipOne dropped away from its mothership, White
Knight, Melvill fired the rocket motor and pulled into a five-G
climb. The flight got off to a rolling start as wind shear rolled
the space ship, forcing Melvill to make a manual attitude
After motor burnout, as SpaceShipOne coasted nearly straight up
at Mach 2.9, Melvill set the pitch trim for reentry. When he did,
he saw the roll trim indicator go hard over. This appeared to be a
flight control system failure, so he immediately switched to a
backup trim system, which worked perfectly.
As it turned out, Rutan said, there was no failure. Instead, the
motors that run the trim went into what Scaled Composites calls
"thermal time-out." One of trim motors exited time-out before the
other, resulting in an asymmetrical elevon deployment.
The crowd was especially pleased to hear Rutan describe an idea
for what to do with SpaceShipOne after it completes its flight test
program and wins the X-Prize. "How many of you would buy a $5.00
lottery ticket for a space flight?" he asked. He paused, then
added, "How many of you would buy 100 of them?"
Everyone in the crowd raised their hands at the first question
and quite a few stayed up for the second.
Rutan described a possible scenario for an AirVenture Fly-In of
the future. The SpaceShipOne ride lottery tickets would be sold
until Friday. That evening, a drawing is held where the next two
civilian astronauts are chosen. On Saturday, the lucky winners go
through training, which would include a sustained five-G turn in an
Extra 300. If the lottery winners can handle the G-forces and other
requirements, they would be cleared for flight.
Rutan's description of this future space lottery drew some
laughs and a lot of applause. While tracing loops and rolls in the
air with his hands he said, "First you have a biplane aerobatic
routine. Then White Knight with SpaceShipOne attached would take
off. While White Knight climbs to altitude, you have time for
another couple biplane routines. Maybe even a biplane with a
With White Knight at altitude, making contrails over Lake
Winnebago (the very large lake just east of Oshkosh), SpaceShipOne
would ignite its rocket motor, leaving a miles-long smoke trail as
it climbs into space.
Rutan envisions live video feeds from chase planes, with White
Knight and SpaceShipOne displayed on large video screens. After the
SpaceShipOne completes re-entry and glides back to Wittman Regional
Airport, there would be time for one or two additional aerobatic
routines. Then the crowd would watch SpaceShipOne glide in for a
landing followed by fly-bys by mothership White Knight and the
SpaceShipOne chase planes.
After the flight the world's two newest astronauts would be
awarded their astronaut wings.
Rutan doesn't know if or when he would be able to fly at an
Oshkosh of the future. He does know that after SpaceShipOne is
retired, all but one gram of it will be donated to the Air and
Space Museum as a historic aircraft.
What is to become of that last gram of SpaceShipOne? Rutan plans
to send it on-board the first robotic mission to Pluto.
Rutan-watchers say that's the kind of unlimited thinking that has
allowed him to achieve what others have always thought to be