NASA awards astronaut status to anyone who reaches an altitude of 50 miles (80,500 metres). SpaceCraftOne, flown by 62-year-old Mike Melvill, reached altitude of 65,000 metres at about 1600 GMT. The altitude is a new record for a private vehicle.
SpaceCraftOne (SS1)was carried into the air attached to the belly of a larger aircraft called White Knight, also flown in this test by a solo pilot. SS1 detaches at about 15,000 metres before blasting towards space using its own rocket engine.
The futuristic vehicles were developed by Scaled Composites, in Mojave, California, US. This company was founded by the aerospace engineer Burt Rutan, who is best known for designing long-distance aircraft. The company has financial backing from the Microsoft mogul Paul Allen, reports newscientist.com
According to theregister.co.uk Pilot Mike Melvill yesterday took the vehicle to 64km (211,000ft) above the Mojave desert. To claim the bounty, Rutan's Scaled Composites must fly the craft to 100km (329,000ft), return safely to earth and repeat the whole procedure within two weeks.
It now seems likely that SpaceShip One will be first past the post, thereby "jumpstarting the space tourism industry", as the X-prize website puts it. However, we reckon you'll have to have pretty deep pockets for a quick jaunt, despite what Scaled Composites claims:
Our goal is to demonstrate that non-government manned space flight operations are not only feasible, but can be done at very low costs. Safety, of course is paramount, but minimum cost is critical. We look to the future, hopefully within ten years, when ordinary people, for the cost of a luxury cruise, can experience a rocket flight into the black sky above the earth's atmosphere, enjoy a few minutes of weightless excitement, then feel the thunderous deceleration of the aerodynamic drag on entry.
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