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Miles O'Brien: Atmosphere 'electric' after X Prize flight

Check this web log throughout the day as CNN Anchor and Space Correspondent Miles O'Brien follows the progress of SpaceShipOne's second flight in pursuit of the Ansari X Prize.

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CNN anchor and space correspondent Miles O'Brien
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Posted: 12:45 p.m. ET

As the party begins here -- Mt. St. Helens blows off some steam. Good timing ... no newsjam.

Posted: 12:20 p.m. ET

After the break, he will go to work on his X Prize Cup -- in Las Cruces, New Mexico. By 2005, spaceship building teams will be invited to compete all in one place over a 10-day event -- aimed at becoming a huge public event -- made for TV.

Posted: 12:15 p.m. ET

Peter Diamandis says they are giving the check away on Nov. 6 so they can milk the publicity -- and let the election pass. In the meantime, he is hitting the beach.

Posted: 12:04 p.m. ET

"$10 million is a lot of money," says Burt Rutan. Paul Allen is giving some of the money back to Rutan's company -- bonuses for all!

Posted: 12:10 p.m. ET

Peter Diamandis makes it official -- Rutan/Allen team has won the Ansari X Prize -- champagne flows -- check in the mail. That will be delivered in St. Louis on November 6. Diamandis was inspired by the flight of Lindbergh's plane in 1927. Lucky Lindy won the $25,000 Orteig prize when he landed in Paris.

Posted: 11:58 a.m. ET

Justin Houchin is 17 -- and he is angling to become the first teenager in space. He is hoping today's accomplishment will make that possible. He says "everyone wants to know what it would be like to put our bodies in space."

Posted: 11:43 a.m. ET

I am with Jim Benson -- CEO of a company called SpacDev -- which built the motor, fueled by rubbber and nitrous oxide (laughing gas). No one is laughing at this attempt now. He is planning a small craft of his own -- the SpaceDev Dream Chaser -- which would carry 7 people to suborbital space.

Posted: 11:42 a.m. ET

Sure does heat up quickly here in the desert. The morning chill now replaced by the mid-morning heat.

Posted: 11:41 a.m. ET

Brian Binnie: "I thank God that I live in a country where this is possible." Amen, Brian.

Posted: 11:37 a.m. ET

Sorry -- been busy with the TV duties. The atmosphere here is electric -- as SS-1 lands safely after reaching 368,000 feet -- 40K more than needed. They beat the record set by the X-15 40 years ago (358,000 feet). Brian Binnie had a good, smooth landing erasing memories of that steep descent -- and hard landing that collapsed the main landing gear. This time, he greased it.

Posted: 10:15 a.m. ET

Big crowd here this morning -- more people than for the first trip to space in June. Thousands on hand. I will try to get a head count.

Posted: 10:10 a.m. ET

The Alpha jet is airborne now. All the planes in this "Air-tilla" have left the earth. One will do it in spades.

Posted: 9:57 a.m. ET

With Dick Rutan now -- he is our guide through this amazing feat. He and Jeanna Yeager flew around the world on one tank of gas in a plane called Voyager in December 1986. Took them 9 days.

Posted: 9:51 a.m. ET

Mike Melvill is flying White Knight -- so far all routine radio calls from all aircraft.

Posted: 9:50 a.m. ET

White Knight now climbing through 11,500 feet -- on their way to 50,000 feet.

Posted: 9:47 a.m. ET

Kevin Mickey of Scaled Composites says the team is calm and ready.

Posted: 9:46 a.m. ET

Extra airborne.

Posted: 9:45 a.m. ET

The Extra is cleared for takeoff. The team is doing their last chance check as the sun rises.

Posted: 9:40 a.m. ET

White Knight and SS-1 just taxied by. Final check list begins at the end of runway.

Posted: 9:35 a.m. ET

The SS-1 flight includes its carrier ship White Knight, a low-chase plane -- an aerobatic plane called an "Extra," a mid-chase plane -- a Beech Starship (a Rutan design), and high-chase is an Alpha jet -- a European trainer that comes from Paul Allen's toy box.

Posted: 9:20 a.m. ET

Doing live shots for our affiliate service is Kimberly Osias -- who just flew in from Mt. St. Helens. Hopefully the volcano will not erupt as this historic flight is under way. That would make for a major "newsjam."

Posted: 8:50 a.m. ET

Paul Allen's Gulfstream just touched down...an important prerequisite for a flight is having the person who funded the fun on location!

Posted: 8:20 a.m. ET

Anyone who watched the last flight of SS-1 was taken aback by the way the craft kept rolling as it left the atmosphere. 29 rolls at least as Mike Melvill keep it headed straight up. The current thinking: the nose high attitude may make SS-1 prone to roll. Melvill was obviosuly not fazed by this. He was no longer feeling the effects of gravity -- accustomed to aerobatics -- and did not try to correct the roll until SS-1 was "feathered" -- its wing swiveled so it could re-enter the atmosphere safely.

Posted: 8:15 a.m. ET

Of course strong wind shear at high altitude can cause problems. During the first flight of SpaceShipOne, pilot Mike Melvill encountered wind shear -- in the midst of dealing with that, his trim system failed. At high speeds SpaceShipOne is controlled by trim (which provide slight corrections). Turns out one of the trim motors overheated and failed.

Posted: 8:10 a.m. ET

Usually, the only weather worry here is the wind. It blows all night and all day -- steady and hard. The hills around the airport are filled with windmills. The lull occurs just as the sun rises -- which is why we are up at 0-dark:30. Today, there are no wind worries here on the ground at least.

Posted: 7:47 a.m. ET

The X-Prize folks have set up a media filing center in a vacant office beside the runway apron. Bagels, coffee, fruit and juice this time. Better than the greasy eggs last time.

Posted: 7:45 a.m. ET

The weather here is pristine. Wind calm -- and CAVU (ceiling and visibility unrestricted). Venus is shining like a bright beacon in a starry sky.

Posted: 7:40 a.m. ET

I called a source on the team to ask how old Brian Binney is. I heard him cup the phone and say "Hey Brian, how old are you?" His reply: "It's a secret..." My source pushed him - saying it is probably out there anyway. "51," came the sheepish reply. The team could then begin its preflight briefing.

Posted: 7:26 a.m. ET

Binney has been flying a lot with Mike Melvill -- the first civilian astronaut -- in his Rutan designed/Melvill built "Long EZ." They have a piece of cardboard to cover the canopy -- so the view matches what the pilot of SpaceShipOne sees (or does not see) -- and they have been working on smooth landings!

Posted: 7:20 a.m. ET

The pilot of SpaceShipOne is Brian Binnie. He has 21 years of flight testing in his log book. He spent 20 years testing Navy strike fighters at Patuxent and is now a program business manager at Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites -- as well as being one of the 4 test pilots assigned to the SpaceShipOne Team. Burt Rutan says his first flight in SpaceShipOne, December 17, 2003, was the most dangerous test flight they have flown. He was the first to take the craft supersonic. It wasn't an entirely happy landing though. He came in too steep -- landed hard -- and collapsed the main landing gear. The spaceship was scratched but Binney was not.

Posted: 7:14 a.m. ET

Good morning from Mojave, California. The High Desert as they call it. The Mojave Airport sits 2,791 feet above sea level. For pilots, this is hallowed ground -- and sky. They like to think of this place as the bottom of the sky -- more than the top of the desert. On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager became the first man to fly supersonic in this sky. Over the years, just about every airplane that made it into the U.S. military arsenal first took flight here. A good place for the SpaceShipOne team to be.


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