Private Manned Rocket Plane Reaches Space

Commercial Test-Flight Brings Space Tourism Closer to Earth

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SpaceShipOne pilot Mike Melvill

SpaceShipOne pilot Mike Melvill after the successful landing of the first commercial, manned flight into space. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters
SpaceShipOne leaves a contrail as it heads for space.

SpaceShipOne leaves a contrail as it heads for space. Reuters hide caption

itoggle caption Reuters

Hundreds of people gathered in the Mojave Desert Monday morning to watch as the first-ever privately financed manned rocket ship soared to the edge of the Earth's atmosphere. In a 90-minute flight, 62-year-old Mike Melvill piloted the plane more than 60 miles up into the atmosphere and then glided back down to a landing at Mojave Airport.

SpaceShipOne began the flight attached to a special jet called White Knight. At 46,000 feet the spacecraft detached, and moments later, Melvill ignited the rocket that shot the craft to the top of its trajectory.

The Scaled Composites project is the brainchild of aeronautics entrepreneur Burt Rutan, and is being bankrolled by billionaire Paul Allen, who co-founded Microsoft. In 1986, his elegant Voyager aircraft was the first to fly around the world without refueling.

Government space programs such as those in the United States and Russia have been sending humans into orbit for decades. But SpaceShipOne, a rocket plane about the size of an oversized car, is the first successful manned venture by a private company.

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