Just As I Thought

Meet me at the Orbital Hilton

Could it be? Just a few years late by Arthur C. Clarke’s estimate? The debut of commercial space travel?

The makers of a civilian spacecraft claimed a private foundation’s $10 million aerospace prize Monday morning after their commercial rocket climbed just beyond the edge of space at more than three times the speed of sound for the second time in a week.

… SpaceShipOne was designed by aviation pioneer Burt Rutan and his Mojave-based company, Scaled Composites LLC, to win the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million award offered by a private foundation to the first group of entrepreneurial space enthusiasts to build a mostly reusable spacecraft capable of carrying three people into suborbital space.

To win the prize, the spacecraft needed to carry a pilot and the equivalent weight of two other passengers to space twice in the same vehicle within two weeks.

After Monday’s flight, Peter H. Diamandis, founder, chairman and president of the X prize Foundation, declared Rutan’s team the winner.

Well, got some spare cash? In just a few years, you can go out of this world.

Last week, British entrepreneur Richard Branson’s Virgin Group licensed the SpaceShipOne technology to build a fleet of similar vehicles intended to carry paying passengers on tourist flights to suborbital space starting in 2007. Estimated ticket price: About $200,000.

Branson, who was on hand for Monday’s flight, also sponsored SpaceShipOne’s two X Prize attempts, and his company’s red logos now appear on the rocket plane’s tail and side.

Rutan called the SpaceShipOne flights the “dawn of the age of space tourism” and promised that his spaceships will be safer than the first commercial airliners.

COOL.

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