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Mojave, Round One: September 29, 2004

A victory roll at the top of the climb is important for an airshow pilot!" - Mike Melville

I drove up to Mojave from the LA Basin pretty late Tuesday night, since I had to teach my evening MBA class. As it happened one of my students had given a presentation on cultural differences in business. Born in Kenya himself, his perspective was that Americans are different from the rest of the world since from the time we are children we are given lots of choices - so we think all options are possible. As I rolled over the moonlight-bathed Antelope Valley buffeting around in the wind, I thought about how right he was. Just last Saturday I had helped out Beyond-Earth at their launches in Frederick, Oklahoma, so I was in the unique position of going to two "new space" launches at two launch sites in the span of less than a week - with any luck, a sampling of the overload of choices to come!

This time it was cold in the predawn - cold enough to want a polypro jacket and to make it worth it to seek out coffee, fortunately not a difficult proposition even at 4 AM on a Wednesday in the fast-food and gas-station heaven of Mojave.


There were a lot of kids out this time, mostly sleepy rolls of blankets on the hardpacked desert dirt that started to stir as the sky got a bit pink. I struck up a conversation with 11-year-old Barbara whose mother, father and grandfather had all worked in aerospace. We chatted about how cool it would be to have Spaceship One stencils on wallpaper - probably exactly what I would want in my room if I was eleven these days! (Hmmm... maybe the next time we repaint my home office...)

After the June 21 event, in some ways this launch felt almost routine - a feeling that we'd seen it all before. That takeoff roll, though, will NEVER be routine, and when the Spaceship One/White Knight pair swings into the sky I don't think anyone will ever be able to turn away from the sight until the pair are lost into the early-morning glare.

A job hunting enthusiast had a novel resume format here (on the back of the shirt he had an appeal to Miles O'Brien.) A new industry calls for new job-hunting skills - with all the activity now, maybe more and more workers in the "new space" industry will even get paid to work in it!

No trip to Mojave to see the launch would be complete without the need to come up with novel ways to block out the sun to see the rocket burn. Our first indication that something was a little interesting up there was the contrail, which initially I thought was reflecting really strange winds aloft but was of course tracing out the rolls of the vehicle. The wait for the vehicle to come down got pretty long after we had heard what had happened.

Finally SpaceShipOne was on the ground, and the chase planes had a chance to take a bow - with the Extra (the red plane) trailing some airshow smoke for effect, generating some pent-up cheers from the crowd, relieved to have the hard part over for the day.

Mojave itself has not changed much superficially from all this international attention. The turn into the Press and Preferred Parking entrance on Belshaw still has its venerable motel landmark. But under the surface, perhaps exemplified by the high energy of the good folks of the rocketboosters.org association of local civic groups selling SpaceShipOne merchandise, one feels energy and a palpable upswing. Soon, along with the town of Mojave, maybe all of aerospace will be lifted out of the desert by the those skinny pairs of wings!

Joan Horvath
CEO of Takeoff Technologies

See also Joan's reports on the June 21, 2004 flight (first time a privately built and financed manned vehicle reached space) and the X PRIZE winning flight on Oct. 4, 2004.

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