The man at the controls called it “a mind-blowing experience — awesome.” But everyone who saw test pilot Mike Melvill become the world’s first people’s astronaut Monday was calling it history.
Melvill, 63, flew SpaceShipOne, a rocket plane designed by iconoclastic aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan, to an altitude of 100 kilometers. The suborbital mission marked the first time a civilian pilot at the controls of a privately financed aircraft had crossed the threshold of space.
Rutan gave an official altitude for the flight of 328,491 feet — about 400 feet above the publicized goal.
But the historic flight suffered a potentially disastrous problem that sent SpaceShipOne more than 20 miles outside its planned re-entry zone above the Mojave Desert.
Melvill and Rutan told a press conference after the mission that a system designed to let the pilot stabilize the craft during supersonic flight appeared to have failed.