End of a Chapter: WhiteKnightOne’s Final Flight

Last month marked 10 years since the first commercial space flight. SpaceShipOne quietly tucked under the belly of its mother ship, WhiteKnightOne, flew successfully into outer space on June 21st, 2004. Although the flight into outer space and the return lasted barely 24 minutes, it accomplished what Rutan set out to prove: that commercial space flight is feasible. Two subsequent flights in September and October of the same year, demonstrated undeniably that it is not only possible but can be accomplished with short turn around time.

Oshkosh 09Scaled Composites went on to win the Ansari X-Prize and continues to build SpaceShipTwo and WhiteKnightTwo with commercial space tourism in mind under the auspices  of Virgin Galactic. After the three successful flights, SpaceShipOne was retired, and now graces the front galley in the Smithsonian Air and Space Musuem in Washington, D.C. This week marked the end of the first phase of commercial space flight. WhiteKnightOne, the mother-ship of SpaceShipOne was finally retired. It flew it’s final flight to Paine Field, in Everett, WA where it will become a part of the Paul Allen Heritage Collection.

DCF 1.0I have fond memories of these two spacecrafts. Over the last decade I have had several opportunities to be up close and personal with them. It was back in the fall of 2003, when I first spied SpaceShipOne. Things were still hush-hush back then. One afternoon, I had an incredible opportunity to spend an hour or two in the hanger that houses SpaceShipOne in the offices of Scaled Composites in the Mohave Dessert, and to hear Rutan speak about his design and vision for spaceflight. How can I forget, that on that afternoon, in that hanger, when I surreptitiously let my hand caress the fuselage with wonder? Or later to think gleefully that if not I, that my fingerprints made it to space?

DCF 1.0Or, how can I forget, that other Spring day, when I drove out to the arid Mohave Dessert at 3:00 a.m. along with several thousands others, who held the same enthusiasm and joy to be there to experience history being made? Pristine, peaceful and awe-inspiring was the moment to see the WhiteKnightOne taxi up to the runway with ShipOneOne tucked in it’s belly and quietly depart in the pre dawn morning, climbing slowly to altitude. Or to see, Mike Melville’s, triumphant return, gliding SpaceShipOne back to earth.

Or, the excitement to flying into the nation’s only spaceport in 2005? Or seeing Rutan and Melville at Oshkosh in 2005, triumphant from their success? Flying in WhiteKnightOne and SpaceShipOne to Oshkosh during Airventure?

My encounters don’t end here. Airventure 2011, celebrated Rutan Designs. While SpaceShipOne and WhiteKnightOne were not present, several other Rutan designs were on display.

DCF 1.0On any given day, a few steps put’s me, up close and personal with SpaceShipOne.

Kudo’s to WhightKnightOne for a job well done. Maybe one day I will make it to Paine Field in Everett, WA and visit it.

spaceshiponeSpace is the Final Frontier. That we will make it there one day is a given!

Let’s do it!


Space: The Final Frontier

These are the voyages of the Space ship Enterprise
It’s 5 year mission to explore strange new worlds
To seek out new life and new civilizations
To boldly go where no man has gone before

Who can forget the voice of Captain James T. Kirk as the opening credits rolled, and the Star ship Enterprise and it’s crew embarked on another remarkable journey to explore strange new worlds at the edge of the Universe at Warp speed? There was Captain Kirk assisted ably by  Spock, Bones, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov. All with wit, and ingenuity racing boldly where no man has gone before.

The Star Trek Television series offered a whole new world of space adventure. The first trials of human space travel successfully behind and the race to space in full focus between the two giant forces of the western world: Soviet and US; Star Trek provided the vicarious enjoyment for all of us who longed to reach the stars. Since the beginning of time mankind has looked skyward and yearned. In the words of Carl Sagan:   “But I guess I’d say if it is just us… seems like an awful waste of space.” (quoted from the book movie Contact based on a book by Carl Sagan)

The launch of the Dragon spacecraft by SpaceX marks an extraordinary milestone and advances the next generation of space travel by leaps and bounds! After decades of monopoly by NASA, it is finally time for the commercial world to finally address the whole idea of space travel. It opens up immense possibilities for the rapid advancement and healthy competition for the common man to address, solve and simplify the solution for cheap, efficient and easy access to space. The success of the Dragon spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station clearly demonstrates that it is achievable.

Burt Rutan (Scaled Composites)  and Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic) in the last few years have test flown and irrevocably demonstrated that with a little support, some private funding, enthusiasm and drive, space is reachable; three times over to win the XPrize in 2004. With SpaceShipTwo poised to facilitate commercial space tourism we are one step closer to achieving this dream.

Kudos to Elon Musk and all the people at SpaceX for a job well done! For reliving the dream, giving hope, opening the window of immense possibilities and thrusting us forward into that next generation of commercial space flight.

See Also:
Atlantis: Final Flight 
I Touched SpaceShineOne!!!
SpaceShipOne and I
SpaceShip One Government Zero
Lost in Space