A Brief, Private Trip into Space

The Competition to Become First Commercial Manned Flight

SpaceShipOne, one of the X Prize entrants, lands during a test flight. Courtesy Scaled Composites hide caption

» More Photos of SpaceShipOne's Test Flights
itoggle caption Courtesy Scaled Composites

A Canadian entry, the da Vinci Project's spacecraft would be launched from a large helium balloon. X Prize Foundation hide caption

» More X Prize Entries
itoggle caption X Prize Foundation

A small company funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen will attempt to send a person into space aboard a vehicle called SpaceShipOne. It's one of more than 20 groups competing for a $10 million prize for the first non-governmental manned space flight. NPR's David Kestenbaum reports.

The rules for the X Prize are simple: Send a privately funded vehicle with three people aboard up 62.5 miles, return them safely to Earth, then repeat the feat with the same ship within two weeks. The reward, aimed at jump-starting a space tourism industry, expires at the end of this year.

Next Monday, Scaled Composites, a small company in the California desert will attempt to send SpaceShipOne into suborbital space. "If all goes as planned, SpaceShipOne will just poke its nose into space; then gravity will quickly pull it back to Earth," Kestenbaum reports.

SpaceShipOne is the brainchild of aeronautics entrepreneur Burt Rutan, whose Voyager aircraft in 1986 completed the first flight around the world without refueling.

A rocket plane about the size of an oversized car, SpaceShipOne begins flight strapped to the belly of another airplane, then disconnects, fires a rocket engine and heads up. In May, the vehicle reached an altitude of 40 miles. Monday's goal will be 60 miles.

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