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The X-Prize is won, with just under three months to spare
October 4, 2004

So here we are in Mojave again, for space flight number three. It's starting to feel like I'm a member of some sort of erratically-meeting sleep-deprivation club. Although there are a lot more people in town (including a reported 750 accredited members of the press) somehow preflight it seems more subdued and quieter in town overnight than it was for the first X-Prize flight.

There is almost no wind at all when I arrive about 4:20 AM in the dirt parking lot which serves as the press area. It's a good thing too since there is so much commotion and the sheer numbers of people, cables and vehicles going to and fro would have been a wall of dust if it were windy. 750 media people sure do come with a lot of baggage!

Space watchers in the morning

The rollout down the runway takes place when the sky is barely pink. Things seem to be happening very fast this morning, or maybe it's just that I've been able to snag not one but two cups of coffee. As the vehicles climb out and occasionally glint overhead I wonder aloud to another reporter what Brian Binnie is thinking up there. We agree that more than likely he is fully occupied with the mechanics of flying and won't have much time to think until later. So in our own brief silences we think about things - probably too much - on his behalf.

White Knight + SS1 on runway

After the speedy rollout, the climb seemed to take a long time. In the hiatus, I talk to a few reporters for non-aerospace publications. Is the entrepreneurial space community taken seriously by the general public? Responses are thoughtful (and mixed).

Finally it's time to fire the rocket engine. XPrize staffer Catriona Linton unknowingly helped me out by expertly blocking the sun. The small contrail is the chase plane; the Y- shaped large one is White Knight and SpaceShipOne. We've never seen such clear contrails - it was still pretty much calm on the ground, astonishing for Mojave.


From this point out, waves of cheering reached us in the media area as the various milestones were met and announced, and finally as the little armada of vehicles flew over us on the way down and swept into their final turn. Once on the ground, there were more speeches and awards than other times (and the addition to the mix of Sir Richard Branson, in the white shirt.) Champagne was opened (and spilled!) after the vehicle was towed to our press enclave.

Flag Held by Rutan, Diamandis, etc

Finally, the vehicles safely put away, it was time to sightsee a bit before going home. Models of some of the other X-Prize vehicles had been set up, and just to top things off the Global Flyer was on display - the vehicle Branson is having Scaled make to go around the world again.

X PRIZE Exhibits in VIP area Global Flyer

It's hard to believe, after all this time, that the X-Prize has finally been won. Who could have imagined the design that would solve the engineering issues back when the Prize was set up?

I must admit, too, to feeling slightly dispossessed. Now what? Has the world changed? Assuming it has, how do we seize on the moment and make the changes permanent? We certainly are all going to keep up our membership in the sleep deprivation club, with any luck....

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 SS1's first X PRIZE flight.

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