Sunday, September 19, 2004
Spaceman meets the stars
MSNBC - Alan Boyle: Cosmic Log: June 23, 2004 | 4:30 a.m. ET

A day after Mike Melvill took his first ride into outer space, he took his first ride in a limousine — for a late-night chat with Jay Leno on the 'Tonight' show.

The SpaceShipOne test pilot, along with designer Burt Rutan, sat beside 'Spider-Man' star Tobey Maguire on NBC's set in Burbank, Calif., on Tuesday night and recapped Monday's first-ever spaceflight by a privately developed rocket ship. (NBC is a partner in the MSNBC joint venture.)

Melvill said the 5-G descent from a height of 62 miles (100 kilometers) ranked among the scariest parts of the flight:

'Tou hear this hurricane sound of wind roaring through the tailbooms of the airplane, and it's just a terrifying sound,' he told Leno. 'And you think, 'Oh my God, please hold together.' And I think, 'Well, Burt designed it — the damn thing better hold together.''

The 'Tonight' show also played the video of Melvill throwing up a handful of M&M candy in zero-gravity. 'If you do that as a NASA employee, you probably get fired,' Rutan cracked.

Rutan shed further light on why Melvill was chosen from among the pilots who have been trained to fly SpaceShipOne: 'He's the best stick-and-rudder pilot I know,' he said.

In response to Leno's questions about software billionaire Paul Allen's support for the project, Rutan launched into his rationale for private spaceflight — a speech that drew the biggest round of applause:

'Cost is the only reason we did this program,' he said. 'There have been manned space flights for a long time, but the problem is cost. For decades, the American taxpayers have spent hundreds of billions of dollars and sent it to their government. And most of those taxpayers, I think, were happy to do that, because they had the hope of flying in space.

'But right now, I don't care if you're a billionaire, you cannot buy a ticket in America. A billionaire can go to Russia and pay $20 million to get one ride. But Paul Allen, he didn't go over there and get a ride, he took that money and he sent it to Mojave, where we work, and we developed the first entire [private] manned space program for that amount of money.

'And because he did that, because he spent it that way instead of on one ride, we — all of us — are a lot closer to being able to buy that ticket. And we're damn close.'"

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