…”I Was a Little Afraid on the Way Down”…


Not operating on a discreet frequency spurred some tense pre-launch moments, too, as organizers asked the crowd (some listening on handhelds) just 10 minutes before the expected drop time to check for a stuck mic. After the drop from White Knight and rocket ignition, the crowd was informed at 7:53 that they “just got the call, he’s OK. Everything’s OK.” At 7:55 we heard, “270,000 and still climbing” … seconds later … “316,000.” On the ground, two booms were heard at 7:58 local. Initially thought by the crowd to be sonic booms (we had been told we might expect them) the failed carbon-fiber fairing covering the larger rocket nozzle (neither of which had flown before) later fell suspect. Melville, who endured about 4.5 G’s maximum on the way up, said it’s more than a little unsettling, the noises the craft makes while plummeting down at 2.9 Mach during re-entry at about 5.5 G’s. On the ground at 8:02 the crowd finally got its chance to settle a bit as glints just above and to the left of the sun became visible. It was the first naked-eye indication that the craft had returned to atmospheric controlled flight and was being followed by its high-altitude chase aircraft, an AlphaJet owned (but not flown) by Paul Allen. After an uneventful landing and some quick speeches for the press, the crew went two miles out of their way to tow SpaceShipOne past the public and RV parking areas. In the crowd, one man held a sign that read, “SpaceShipOne, Government Zero.” Melville took the sign and hoisted it above his head as he rode atop the craft.