All Systems Go on Eve of Launch

Set to Soar: First X Prize Flight This Week
The flight plan for SpaceShipOne. (Image credit: Scaled Composites, LLC)

MOJAVE, CALIFORNIA - "We're ready."

That's what SpaceShipOne's chief designer, Burt Rutan, said in giving a go for launch early Wednesday. His craft will attempt to fly to the edge of space from here at the Mojave Spaceport in the first of two flights needed to snare the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

At the controls of the vessel will be a pilot who has been picked but not announced.

As it skyrockets its way to 62.5 miles (100 kilometers), SpaceShipOne will hold the pilot and the equivalent weight of two passengers -- the requirement for winning the X Prize.

Also onboard will be a surprise manifest of items, Rutan announced.

Personal items

Numbers of personal items are being toted into space, most of it supplied by Rutan's employees who have worked on SpaceShipOne. Those items include tools used to build the craft, tree seedlings, an Explorer's Club flag, as well as Rutan's own slide rule. In addition, a teddy bear that's flown on the U-2 and other vehicles is making the trip, later to be auctioned for charity.

"It's all just interesting stuff," Rutan explained.

"We've worked a long time for this," Rutan told reporters at a late afternoon press briefing. "This program has had an emotional impact on everybody that has touched it...about how historic and how important it is."

Rutan said his team at Scaled Composites has "done a hell of a lot of work on simulations, pilot training - and we're all very confident that we can pull this off tomorrow and turn it around quickly."

"Anything can happen though," Rutan added. "There are all kinds of surprises that can happen. We believe our system is extremely robust to the normal types of failures with rockets that cause real big problems."

Weather on the eve of the flight was good, with skies forecast to be clear and calm enough for the mission to proceed. Live coverage will be provided by beginning at 9 a.m. ET (6 a.m. PT). [Click to watch]

Spaceliners of the future

SpaceShipOne is leading the way in creating a true spaceliner business, predicted Rutan. He pointed to the recent revelation by billionaire Richard Branson to bankroll a passenger-carrying spaceship as a "huge announcement."

Branson is funding development of a commercial version of SpaceShipOne. "It will be larger than SpaceShipOne," Rutan said. "It will carry a lot more people. It doesn't have the tiny windows. It must have the exciting environment for the enjoyment of the flight. It will fly much higher than SpaceShipOne."

Rutan said the future craft will be "maintainable, operable, and we believe, considerably safer than the early airliners."

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Leonard David
Space Insider Columnist

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He has received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.