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Space, The $10M Frontier

A stubby rocket plane soared off a Mojave desert runway Monday strapped to the belly of a carrier plane, shooting for the edge of the Earth's atmosphere and a $10 million prize.

Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen's SpaceShipOne launched Monday on the belly of a carrier plane. After about an hour, the plane was to release SpaceShipOne in an attempt to continue on its own to an altitude of at least 328,000 feet, or just over 62 miles, for the second time since Sept. 29.

If it is successful, that would qualify its backers to clinch the $10 million Ansari X Prize, reports CBS News Correspondent Steve Futterman at the Mojave Airport.

The winning spacecraft must safely complete two flights to an altitude of 328,000 feet — generally considered to be the point where the Earth's atmosphere ends and space begins — in a 14-day span.

A crowd of thousands of space enthusiasts and a throng of news media gathered at Mojave Airport in the early morning darkness to watch the flight.

There was a new pilot for Monday's flight, Brian Binnie. He is one of four pilots able to fly SpaceShipOne. Officials would not say if the switch from Michael Melvill had anything to do with the unexpected rolls that occurred during last week's flight

After a safety analysis, SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan posted preliminary information about the rolls on his Web site this weekend to address what he called the "incorrect rumors" that have circulated.

The first roll occurred at a high speed, about Mach 2.7, but aerodynamic loads on the spacecraft were low and decreasing rapidly "so the ship never saw any significant structural stresses," he said.

The spacecraft rolled so often because the rolls started as it was nearing the edge of the atmosphere and Melvill could not dampen the motions with the aerodynamic controls, according to Rutan. Since aerodynamic controls don't work in space, SpaceShipOne is equipped with a reaction control system that uses jets of a compressed gas to control movements. Melvill used the system to successfully stop the rolling before reaching the peak altitude, Rutan said.

Ansari X Prize founder Peter Diamandis hoped the multimillion-dollar incentive would have the same effect on space travel as the Orteig Prize had on air travel. Charles Lindbergh claimed that $25,000 prize in 1927 after making his solo trans-Atlantic flight.

Major funding came from the Ansari family of Dallas. More than two dozen teams around the world are trying to win the X Prize, but only SpaceShipOne has reached space.

NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe came to Mojave to watch last week's flight, and Marion C. Blakey, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, came to watch Monday's flight.

"I think it's an enormous step because what it does, really, is establish I think in the minds of the average American the fact that that this is something that you can actually consider in your lifetime," Blakey said Sunday.

Blakey's agency and members of the developing industry are in talks about regulatory aspects of space tourism, particularly the safety of the uninvolved public on the ground as well as that of passengers.

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