The record-setting, privately-built suborbital rocket plane -- SpaceShipOne -- is headed for a landing at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum (NASM) in Washington, D.C.
Designed and built by aerospace engineer, Burt Rutan and his Scaled Composites team in Mojave, California, SpaceShipOne made piloted back-to-back flights last year to snag the $10 million X Prize cash purse.
SpaceShipOne is to be displayed in the museum's Milestones of Flight Gallery, said Peter Golkin, a NASM spokesman. That gallery exhibits some of the major firsts in aviation and space history.
Rutan has advised SPACE.com that the scheduled handover to NASM of SpaceShipOne will first see the craft on public display at the Experimental Aircraft Association's (EAA) AirVenture 2005, held July 25-31 at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
According to the EAA, preliminary plans call for the White Knight carrier craft and SpaceShipOne to be at the EAA event for the entire seven-day run.
From Oshkosh, Rutan added, the White Knight/SpaceShipOne duo will then fly to Washington, D.C., with the rocket plane to be presented to NASM the first week of August.
In good company
The rocket plane will be in good company. It joins the Wright Brother's Wright 1903 Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, as well as the Apollo 11 Command Module "Columbia" that carried the first men to walk on the Moon.
"By winning the X Prize it clearly represents a next generation of space travel, possibly one that opens the doors to your average person making it into space, as opposed to trained astronauts and cosmonauts," NASM's Golkin told SPACE.com.
No specific date has been set for the craft to go on public display at the museum, but it will be this year, Golkin said.
Another Rutan design, the Voyager airplane, hangs in the south lobby of the National Air and Space Museum. That aircraft successfully completed in December 1986 the first nonstop, non-refueled flight around the world, co-piloted by Rutan's brother, Dick Rutan and Jeana Yeager.
On October 4, 2004, SpaceShipOne rocketed into history, becoming the first private spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 328,000 feet twice within the span of a 14 day period, thus claiming the $10 million Ansari X Prize.
In addition to meeting the altitude requirement to win the Ansari X Prize, pilot Brian Binnie also broke the August 22, 1963 record by Joseph A. Walker, who flew the X-15 to an unofficial world altitude record of 354,200 feet.
Brian Binnie's SpaceShipOne flight carried him all the way to 367,442 feet or 69.6 miles above the Earth's surface.
The previous week, SpaceShipOne -- under the control of pilot Mike Melvill -- coasted above the 62-mile (100-kilometer) altitude point and successfully completed the first of the two prize-winning flights.
The Ansari X Prize purse was established to stimulate space tourism. Prize money was offered for the first privately built vehicle that could safely carry a pilot and the equivalent weight of two passengers to the edge of space, and then repeat that feat within two weeks.
A cash award for the achievement was modeled after the Orteig Prize that Charles Lindbergh won in 1927 by flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean.