"First" Private Manned Spaceflight A Success

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Since we've been visiting space for more than 40 years it's almost hard to believe that this kind of "first" was still open. Last Thursday, Mike Melvill went into the record books as the first pilot to take a privately funded aircraft into space. The 62-year-old test pilot rode Scaled Composites' rocket plane SpaceShipOne to an altitude of 40 miles (211,400 feet) after being dropped from its mother ship, the White Knight, over the high desert just east of Los Angeles. He then glided the unique craft to a landing at Mojave Airport. "Watching the blue sky go completely black was the highlight of my career," Melvill told reporters. Now, unless some of the other competitors have some tricks up their sleeve, Thursday's flight solidifies the Scaled team's lead in the race to win the X PRIZE, a $10 million award to the first private concern to launch passengers to an altitude of 100 kilometers (about 60 miles), recover them safely and then do it all over again within two weeks. Although Scaled President Burt Rutan has never discussed the cost of his firm's venture, it's almost certainly a lot more than the prize money will cover. Billionaire Paul Allen is funding the effort. The goal of the X PRIZE is to promote safe and reliable private space flights to create a space tourism industry in the next 15 years.