BillionairePaul Allen has acquired SpaceShipOne, again.
Theco-founder of Microsoft, who in 2004 sponsored the development of the world'sfirst privately-funded crewed spacecraft, added Tuesday a replica ofSpaceShipOne to his publicly-displayed collection of aviation artifacts. The28-foot, full scale model was hung in the Flying Heritage Collection's PaineField hangar in Everett, Washington, to continue the museum's narrative themeof presenting the evolution of flight.
"Oneof the key ideas behind the collection is the changing of technology and how itaffects aviation," said Adrian Hunt, executive director of the FlyingHeritage Collection. "SpaceShipOne actually fits in very well within thatbroad message."
"Forexample, at one end of the spectrum, we have the Messerschmitt 163, the firstoperational rocket plane from the middle 1940s near the end of the second WorldWar, and then maybe its natural descendant, which would be SpaceShipOne,"Hunt explained during an interviewwith collectSPACE.com.
The FlyingHeritage Collection's SpaceShipOne is in fact, a descendant of the original,which since 2005 has been on display at the National Airand Space Museum. Before leaving for Washington, DC, the spacecraft wasused to make a mold from which six replicas were cast by Scaled Composites, theMojave, California, company headed by SpaceShipOne's designer, Burt Rutan.
The firstof those replicas went on display in July 2006 at the Experimental AircraftAssociation's (EAA) AirVenture Museum in Wisconsin. Carefully painted toexactly match the exterior appearance of air-launched SpaceShipOne after flyingthe two sub-orbital flights that won itthe $10 million Ansari X Prize in October 2004, the EAA's replica wasmodified to allow the vehicle's tail fins to feather.
Since then,additional replicas have been installed in the William M. Thomas Terminal atMeadows Field Airport in Bakersfield, California; at the New Mexico Museum ofSpace History in Alamogordo; outside in Legacy Park at the Mojave Air and SpacePort in California, near where pilots Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie flew theoriginal three times to space; and even at Google's Headquarters in MountainView, California (co-founder Larry Page was an X Prize trustee).
There havealso been temporary exhibits, such as during the 2007 World Space Expo atNASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, where SpaceShipOne joined thehistoric launch vehicles on display in their rocket garden.
As with allof the others, the Flying Heritage Collection's SpaceShipOne is an exteriorreplica only. The interior is empty, though the EAA suspended M&M candies inside of theirs, mimickingthe impromtu zero-gravity demo that pilot Melvill made during his first flighton June 21, 2004.
That Allen,who solely funded the construction of the first andonly SpaceShipOne was also seemingly the last to receive a replica may seemodd, but it was more a factor of when delivery could be accepted.
"Thismuseum only opened on June 6 of last year. Mr. Allen had been collecting theseaircraft for several years but he had been waiting to have a sort of criticalmass of flying aircraft to actually open the museum," said Hunt.
Andalthough SpaceShipOne is their only replica and the only spacecraft in themuseum, Hunt feels its inclusion is appropriate for more reasons than simplyAllen's history.
"Ithink it gives [SpaceShipOne] a wonderful historical context. Our collectiongoes from a wood and fabric Curtiss Jenny from 1918 through the Messerschmitt163 Comet, an all-metal rocket-powered plane. So this is the birthplace forthis wonderful technology... and out of this came rocketry and jets," saidHunt. "I think it gives it a very different context from what you mightsee where it is displayed elsewhere."
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.