Monday, June 21, 2004


A giant leap for backyard rocketeers |

"The idea became SpaceShipOne, and Monday just before 8 a.m. Pacific time, the diminutive space dart detached from its arachnoid mother ship and rocketed upward to where the sky turned black and the horizon bent with the curvature of the earth, making pilot Mike Melvill the first civilian astronaut.

'The colors were pretty staggering from up there,' said Mr. Melvill, who also earned his wings, officially, as an astronaut. 'It was almost a religious experience.' Melvill said he could see the black expanse of outer space, the curvature of the earth and a broad swathe of the Southern California coast during his three and half minutes just beyond earth's atmosphere. He released a bag of M&Ms candies that floated around the cockpit.

At a time when America and the world are absorbed with grim news of terrorist attacks, hostages, and war, the flight provided a welcome moment of hopeful news for humanity - and made Melvill a hero of sorts. 'I'm just a guy, an old guy' he insisted after the flight. 'I think I'll back off a little bit and ride my bike.'"

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