L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 277, June 27, 2004
"...the traffic jam at the spaceport..."
Exclusive to TLE
A day and a half without sleep, two and a half hours on the road in the middle of the night, (including the traffic jam at the spaceport) four hours on my feet, my arms are a wreak from shading my eyes from the sun (and trying to hold binoculars and a camera steady), my mind is blown and I am still pooped!
But it was all worth it to experience the thrill of watching the first free space shippiloted by the first free astronautstretch the grip of Earth and enter near-earth spacedespite government interference and resistance. We now have a real space program for the first time in human history. And it is only by this means (OK, along with the Jim Bell Memorial Foundation for Free-Market Politicswith a kick-off from Henry Bowman) that the Human Race may finally cure itself of the terminal cancer of government that has been killing us off and holding us down in slavery for the past six thousand years of recorded history; and probably the last 10,000 years of actual history as well.
The false dawn over the Mojave desert lit the sky for an extra hour before the actual dawn got under weigh; and I couldn't tell if it was sky glow or headlights that illuminated the sage brush as government functionaries at the airport entrance relieved me of $10 for parking. Sigh... We finally got into the plush bare-dirt parking area and started to congregate at the east end of runway 090 or so, where the White Knight and its cargo would taxi by. There appeared to be at least 2,000 vehicles in the parking area and about 5,000 people on the tarmac, but this is my estimate from ground level in the middle of the whole thing. The advice from Scaled Composites was to wear warm cloths (as the desert varies by 40 degrees from day to night) but it was shirt-sleeve weather from the start.
We were a bit apprehensive about the weather since the wind had been rather strong (as in 40+ knots) over-night, but it settled down to about 5 knots right down the center of the runway by 6 a.m. There was a good public address system working so we had constant updates on what was going on, and the report from Scaled that all was green and the mission was a "go" drained a great deal of tension out of the crowd. Of course, nothing can go quite according to plan, so the flight was about 20 minutes late starting.
About ten to seven we got a PA report that the ships were starting to taxi out and all eyes turned to the north to see the chase planes go by on their way to the down-wind (south) end of the eastern runway. First was the piston-and-prop aerobatic ship that would fly low chase and help SS1 to land. Then the Rutan Starship (actually a twin-pusher-turbo-prop corporate-size shipthat looks like a Vari-Eze on steroidsthat would fly high-chase both going up and coming down. The last was a "fighter jet" two-seater that would also fly high-chase and take photos. Finally the White Knight came by with SpaceShipOne on a pylon under his belly (Knights are guys, so White Knight is a male airplane.) A more beautiful sight you will not find short of domai.com! 18,000 pounds of star-spangled, snow-white grace and power, twin turboes screaming at just above idle on the way down the taxi-way to the take-off point. The cheering of the crowd was less noisy, but not by much!
The chase planes took off one at a time and circled the field while later ones got airborne. Then the White Knight roared up the runway (accompanied by more loud cheering) and the group began the hour-long circling climb to 47,000 feet altitude where SpaceShipOne would be drop-launched and start the record run to 100+ kilometers.
The next hour was awfully long; following the ships on their way up around the sky. The weather was completely clear but the humidity aloft was spotty, making the contrails come and go. This made it hard to maintain a fix of the two visible ships, Knight and Starship, white on a blue background. When they left contrails or I just got lucky, I followed them by naked eye and with 10x25mm binoculars. I was glad of my small BSA binocs as my arms got really tired and shaky. It was hard to hold them or the small camera steady after all that looking up and shading my eyes and lenses from the bright sun.
The "restricted airspace" that was reserved for the record run was to the east of the spaceport, so we all had the devil's own time tracking the ships without getting blasted by the sun down our lenses. When the Knight was at altitude and on the final circle to launch the announcer told us over the PA system and everybody got up and oriented to the east with cameras and 'scopes. Then the Knight dropped SpaceShipOne, she lit her rocket, pulled up to vertical and lined out (at four gravities) for the stars! As the smoke trail of the rocket drove straight up so did the noise from the crowd. I even found myself screaming along with them. You would not believe how gorgeous a simple thin white line straight up through the sky can be!
It's not what it is, it's what it means.
Now 47,000 feet is almost 5 miles high and SpaceShipOne is not all that big. I could not see the ship herself (I could only just make out the White Knight at 10-power magnification). So I, along with most everybody else, had to wait for the announcement that she had made altitude (over 100 clicks). She then reentered the atmosphere (at five gravities, super-sonic, with wing and tail feathered) and got down below mach-1 and below 50,000 feet. Then the Starship picked up the chase again and was a beacon for us to find the space ship. She circled around the sky for another half hour, dropping altitude for her landing approach. When Mike Melvill, our first free astronaut in human history, came in on final approach the crowd started roaring again. He greased a perfect 2-point landing and rolled-out to the north and the press reviewing area. The White Knight then made a victory pass over the spaceport to more enthusiastic cheering.
Mike and the ship spent a while with the press, getting pictures taken and interviewing (it seemed) before being towed to the public viewing area where we were. He climbed up on the top of SpaceShipOne during the press phase and stayed there for the tow to our area and our rather noisy reception. I could hear him saying "thank you" to the crowd for our moral support as he waved to us. In the press area and when he came to us he had a sigh that said "SpaceShipOne, GovernmentZero" and waved it at the reporters as well as us. The tow truck then took Mike and SpaceShipOne back up the taxi-way to the Scaled Composites hangar and the mission was over.
During the wait for the start of the flight we were entertained with stirring music and commentary from Scaled's mission control. The commentary included interviews with Burt's brother and several politicians. We got the message from both Scaled and the politicians that the biggest hurdle to overcome in the whole project was the Federal Aviation Administration. Even the politicians admitted that the FAA was an obstacle to overcome. They all spoke of the FAA as "it" or "them" and tried to cast themselves as part of "us". You could sense the disgust in the people present with this mealy-mouthed lying; and I got a big smile when I asked a neighbor if he had some rope I could borrow. Nobody mentioned the fact that the FAA is an unconstitutional, and therefor illegal and criminal agency.
While keeping in the backs of our minds the fact that the government opposes the entire industry of free space flight and the very concept of free people escaping to space; and will continue to try to hold us down with such weapons as NASA and the FAA; I was greatly encouraged by today's successful mission and the announcement that Scaled is planning to go to orbit later.
We have it in our grasp to go out into the Solar system and make a new civilization free of the deadening constraint of government. If the United States cracks down on Americans efforts to escape later, we will find other places to build and launch our ships.
For today; all hail Mike Melvill, our first free astronaut!
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