October 4, 2004

We're back!

We were at Mojave Airport this morning, and watched SpaceShipOne win the X-PRIZE! It was Awesome! Much more thrilling than I had expected...

SpaceShipOne being put on its cart
Here's the spacecraft after the flight, being put on its cart...it's so light a couple of guys push down the tail, and the cart is rolled under it. The chap with the beard and the khaki pants, by the nose, is my brother-in-law, Bud McClure. He was photographing some tape (which has different colors that burn off at different temperatures) on the pink thermal protection system, which he designed (along with the environment control system, plus many other odd jobs like engine simulators and trajectory code.)

His mind is already on SpaceShipTwo, being built for Bransen's "Virgin Galactic"...

John weidner and Evelyn Weidner with pilot Brian Binnie
Here's me, and my mom, Evelyn Weidner. On the right is the pilot, Brian Binnie, and I've forgotten who the other guy is. But next to his chin you can see the colored tape, partly etched away by heat. Bud said the heat was just as he had calculated.

The three chase-planes
These are the three chase-planes, which worked at different altitudes...

The most exciting moment at Mojave we didn't get on film, (unless it's on our video, which I haven't had time to mess with). The mother ship, White Knight, carried the spacecraft to 49,000 feet. This took about an hour, and we would catch glimpses of it and a chase plane as they circled ever higher. At the end all we could see were two contrails, very high. Finally the moment came to detach SpaceShipOne. Two contrails split off to either side, and a new one appeared going straight up! Fast! In about a minute it went to what looked like 5-times the height gained in the previous hour. Shortly after that it was announced that the required altitude to win the prize had been exceeded, also breaking the height record set by the X-15 in 1963 (107.9 kilometers).

White Knight, with SpaceShipOne, taxiing out
Here's White Knight, the mother-ship, with SpaceShipOne attached beneath, taxiing past us. They look like the most improbable of contraptions, and one wonders why it doesn't all collapse, and if this is just a hoax. Then they just take off, like it's no big deal. And suddenly they look rather graceful. The cool clear high-desert morning was a pure delight for me, though my family seems to find the desert a sort of Purgatory to be escaped from...

Alas, my son the pilot is busy at college, and he had to miss this. One of the most delightful things was the informality of it all. SpaceShipOne was towed back to the hanger behind that white truck you see above. Nothing was gold-plated, nothing was bureaucratic or pompous. Nothing was NASA...(Or as Rutan says it, "Nay-say.")

One more....here's the cockpit...
Cockpit of SpaceShipOne

Posted by John Weidner at October 4, 2004 4:44 PM
Weblog by John Weidner