The world’s first privately developed spaceship, SpaceShipOne, will be taking a coast-to-coast victory lap this summer, tucked underneath its White Knight carrier airplane on a trip to the Smithsonian, organizers told MSNBC.com Thursday.
The itinerary calls for the White Knight to take off from its home base in Mojave, Calif., in late July and visit the EAA AirVenture air show in Oshkosh, Wis. Another trip would take the craftto Dulles International Airport. From there, the SpaceShipOne rocket plane will be trucked to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, for hanging in the museum’s Milestones of Flight gallery along with the 1903 Wright Flyer.
The main stops in the SpaceShipOne tour have been known for weeks, but the timing and the logistics are still coming together. Mike Melvill, America's first private-sector space pilot, is in charge of organizing the details, said Kaye LeFebvre, spokeswoman for Mojave-based Scaled Composites.
Melvill rode the plane to an altitude just over 62.5 miles (100 kilometers) in June 2004, crossing the internationally recognized boundary of outer space. Follow-up flights in September and October earned the SpaceShipOne team the $10 million X Prize, solidifying the rocket plane's place in the history books.
The National Air and Space Museum said that software billionaire Paul Allen, who funded the SpaceShipOne effort, confirmed his plans to donate the plane to the Smithsonian during an award ceremony at the museum Wednesday night. The museum gave its 2005 NASM Trophy for Current Achievement to Allen, aerospace designer Burt Rutan and the rest of the SpaceShipOne team. Rutan and his team are due to return to the museum on April 19 to collect the equally prestigious Collier Trophy.
The museum quoted Allen as saying Wednesday's ceremony marked "a day of affirmation" on the new frontier of aviation.
"It reminds us that almost anything is possible with a great team and a worthy challenge," Allen said. "But bigger challenges lie ahead — regularly scheduled space tourism and orbital flights of commercial passengers. This means we need more innovation, energy and more milestones to be achieved. But as this museum tells us, the exploration of the high frontier is part of what inspires all of us."
Allen has spent more than $20 million on the SpaceShipOne effort — but at least some of that investment will be recovered under the terms of a deal with Virgin Galactic to provide a fleet of larger "SpaceShipTwo" rocket planes for suborbital space tourism.
From Mojave to Oshkosh
For the initial phase of each of its flights, SpaceShipOne has been attached to the bottom of its swoopy White Knight mothership — and its final journey to the museum will be no different. With SpaceShipOne tucked underneath, White Knight is due to fly from Mojave and arrive at Oshkosh on the opening day of the July 25-31 festival, sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association.
The Oshkosh appearance would provide the best opportunity for the public to see SpaceShipOne up close. EAA spokesman Dick Knapinski said the AirVenture's 8,000-foot-long airstrip should easily accommodate the White Knight's landing and takeoff.
"Burt has been here with just about everything he's built, so that's not a problem," spokesman Dick Knapinski said.
But even the White Knight won't be able to make the trip from Mojave to Oshkosh in one huge hop. On the way to Wisconsin, the White Knight would have to make at least one refueling stop — perhaps in Wichita, Kan., or Tulsa, Okla. — and may stop in Madison, Wis., as well, Knapinski said.
From Oshkosh to Washington
The logistics for the trip to Washington leg are still being worked out. In its news release, the National Air and Space Museum said SpaceShipOne would arrive in Washington in late summer.
LeFebvre said that on the last day of the AirVenture show, SpaceShipOne would leave Oshkosh, bound for Dulles. Upon arrival there, it would be transported from the airport to the museum by truck, she said. She did not provide further information on the timing of the trip, but the announcement from the Smithsonian implied that SpaceShipOne would be installed at the museum in August or September.
The museum said the craft would be hung in the Milestones of Flight gallery — between Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, the first plane to make a solo, nonstop trans-Atlantic trip; and Chuck Yeager's Bell X-1, the first plane to break the sound barrier.
Currently, the Wright Flyer — recognized as the first manned airplane to make a powered, controlled flight — is being displayed at eye level in honor of the centennial of its first flight, but later this year it will be returned to its hanging position in the Milestones gallery, the museum said.