Dawn of the commercial space age

On Oct. 4, SpaceShipOne dropped from its mother ship at an altitude of 50,000 feet, ignited its engine, and then shot to a height of 378,000 feet, or 115.1 kilometers, a world record for a rocket-powered plane. Because the privately funded plane pierced the 100-km altitude that marks the edge of space for the second time within a week—and did so carrying extra weight representing two passengers—its design team claimed the $10 million Ansari X prize, which was established in 1996 to spur commercial space travel.


Microsoft cofounder Paul G. Allen bankrolled the SpaceShipOne project with at least $20 million. Monday’s flight occurred on the 47th anniversary of the former Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite. SpaceShipOne is shown with its mother ship.

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