...After Hundreds Greet SpaceShipOne...

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On Monday, hundreds of people crowded the Aeroshell Square area to watch the (somewhat firm) landing and rollout of the bulbous aircraft duo -- SpaceShipOne and White Knight. The occupants were greeted by EAA President Tom Poberezny and other EAA officials (who drove up in one of EAA's equally bulbous roofless Volkswagen Beetles). Rutan and astronauts Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie each took turns thanking EAA for the fundamental role their participation in the event over the years had in setting the stage for their launch of the commercial manned space industry. Poberezny recalled that during one of Rutan's 35 consecutive visits to the show, he said that one day he'd arrive there from space. And while that might not be technically true this time around, Rutan said his turn is coming. The stop in Oshkosh was the third leg in a trip to take the space ship to a place of honor in the National Air and Space Museum. The team took the aircraft to a fly-in in Oklahoma, "just to give them all a thrill" with a once-in-a-lifetime flyby.

Rutan said he had spare engines after the successful X-Prize flights and had considered using them for flights with passengers (Binnie and Melvill both flew with ballast to simulate the weight of passengers). But he told a news conference just after arrival in Oshkosh that he didn't want to risk the spacecraft before it could be taken to Washington. He noted that the test program for SpaceShipTwo, the commercial passenger craft being built for Virgin Galactic will involve 400 flights. "I'll be on one of them," he said. He also said that test program would put more people into space than have flown there in the last 44 years of spaceflight. Forty-four years, which have so far yielded fatalities for each 62 flights, according to Rutan. It's the result of ground-launch methodology that among other things places people "on top of a one kiloton bomb," according to Virgin Galactic's Whitehorn. Part of the plan is to exponentially surpass that safety record.