SpaceShipOne / Xprize snapshots, part 2

The whole thing felt a little like Burning Man with more money and fewer naked hippies. Squint through the dust (which at times almost blew as hard as it does on the playa), and those big sponsor signs could almost pass for theme camp tents. Instead of bad trance music blaring in all directions, we heard bombastic symphonic overtures on the PA system every time SS-1 was about to do something important, like lift off or move from climb mode to glide mode.

The craft is fueled by nitrous oxide and rubber. I suppose this proves what many Hollywood clubbers have known for years — that with a little latex and laughing gas, you can get to heaven.

Here, Scaled Composites' Burt Rutan and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen sit in the back of a pickup truck towing SpaceShipOne along the runway, after pilot Mike Melvill's successful flight. Mr. Melvill is still inside the craft. This sight made me laugh. I mean — come on. A pickup truck towing a spaceship. Garage geekery, grand goals. Link to full-size image. Link to a snapshot moments later, in which Melvill addresses the crowd on the ground, while Rutan and Allen grin widely.

SpaceShipOne / Xprize snapshots, part 1

Just got back to LA from the Mojave Airport — er, spaceport — where Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne completed the first of two flights that may result in its developers winning the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

Today's successful flight included a dramatic series of unplanned rolls during ascent. Developer Burt Rutan attributed them to known engineering problems that caused excessive dihedral effect (the way an aircraft reacts when wind hits it from the side). That corkscrew-spiral flight pattern on the way up looked terrifying from where I stood– as if SS-1 were about to suddenly spin out of control to disaster at any moment. Judging from the gasps I heard in the media corral, others agreed.

Regardless of how risky that portion of the flight may have appeared, or indeed was, pilot Mike Melvill later said the rolls "felt cool" from where he was seated some 337,500 feet above the earth. He said he could see stars above, once he departed Earth's atmosphere. There was enough of a pause at the top for him to take a break from piloting, peek out the windows, and take some snapshots with a little camera he'd stowed on board.

I've been up since 230am today, and there's still work to do on tomorrow morning's NPR "Day to Day" report about today's flight. So for now, just a series of quick snapshots I took at the event. Here, SpaceShipOne at dawn: Link. Here, SpaceShipOne taxis out pre-flight, attached to White Knight: Link. Here, White Knight takes off: Link