Santa Maria Sun / Art
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 12
Lift offSpaceShipOne author will discuss the private sector's involvement in space flight
BY SHELLY CONE
Space exploration was once a government undertaking, and the role private industry played was in completing contracts to help with government space programs. Now, however, the private sector is increasingly doing the exploring. Author Dan Linehan will discuss the changing face of spaceflight with the public at the next Experimental Aircraft Association meeting at the Santa Maria Museum of Flight.
Linehan has an extensive background as an engineer, though he left the field to become a writer. As the author of SpaceShipOne: An Illustrated History, he explores the first private trip to space.
His engineering background and interest in aerospace combined when he became the editor and publisher for the event program for the California International Airshow. When his name came up as someone to pen a book about SpaceShipOne, the choice felt natural.
That trip in question took place in 2004, when aircraft designer Burt Rutan and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen sent the world’s first privately built and piloted manned spacecraft shooting skyward. Developed in secrecy, SpaceShipOne launched from Mojave Air and Space Port, flying a trajectory similar to NASA’s first two Mercury missions. Flown by astronaut Mike Melvill, the craft cost $26 million and successfully made the trip three times. The feat won the $10 million Ansari X Prize. In order to win, however, it only needed to make the trip twice. The event was significant because Rutan not only won the prize with SpaceShipOne, he ushered in a new era of space flight—one that continues to unfold today.
“It was a phenomenal endeavor, and it really was a pretty big change in how the space industry is moving away from government and into the private sector,” Linehan said.
He explained that with new companies like SpaceX launching successful payloads, the industry is experiencing a drastic shift that will forever change the way space exploration happens. The move to the private sector is promising to many people who have become impatient with a seeming lack of progress in space exploration, Linehan said.
“A lot of people are getting frustrated, asking, ‘Why aren’t we on Mars already?’ We landed on the moon in 1969 and haven’t had much progress since then,” he noted.
Linehan said private sector success in space exploration will take small steps, but will eventually come. He said it starts with gaining the ability to go up and come back down. It will progress to orbiting the Earth, then move on even further from there.
He said that during his research, he encountered many facts that surprised him about the SpaceShipOne endeavor—though many of the tidbits were small and probably stood out more to him because of his engineering background.
“It was the geeky, nerdy engineering side of me that found some of those nuances completely fascinating,” he explained.
Take, for example, the fact that SpaceShipOne had the same control panels as a jet plane, yet was able to go into space.
The human side of the process also impressed him. He found stories that painted a picture of SpaceShipOne designer Rutan as an eclectic inventor, and then there were the stories that showed how the people involved in the project could be devoted, yet have a sense of humor.
For instance, when SpaceShipOne was heading into space, it went into a spin, giving everyone a scare. The craft spun 29 times. While Melvill piloted the best he could, everyone on the ground couldn’t help but think the worst. Aside from a scare, nothing bad happened—but on the way down, Melvill couldn’t resist playing with his audience
“To celebrate, he did another roll on the way down. And people thought, ‘Oh no, now what’s happening?’ but it was just Melvill doing a victory roll,” Linehan said. “Something like that shows the toughness of these guys, but also the human side as well.”
Linehan said he’ll discuss these things during his presentation at the Santa Maria Museum of Flight. He said the audience members don’t have to be rocket scientists to enjoy the talk. He said he’s also used to working in front a wide variety of audiences, from people who have some background in air travel to small school children. His discussion will suit space travel enthusiasts on all levels.
Arts Editor Shelly Cone likes stars. Contact her at email@example.com.
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