What started as some innocent journaling nineteen years ago developed into a rather obsessive drive to write a book. Almost every author I’ve read generally notes just what an endeavor the effort entails, and I’m no exception. I remember when I was just a youngster reading a quote by the prolific Oscar Hammerstein, that stated:
“I took the morning to put in a comma and the afternoon to take it out.”
Heh. There’s so much I like about that. The focus — the selfishness — the self-aggrandizing humor — and the underlying truth it implies.
Well, I’m here to tell you that a book will hollow you out if you’re not careful. I’ve picked away at this thing fitfully. Exasperation, exhaustion, and frustrating humility seem to be the terrain on which the effort unfolded. I swear at times, it is such a thankless endeavor that I often wonder how there can be so many books out there. So there’s a little background, and I humbly offer what follows, not to impress or for reward, but to simply gain my freedom from this marvelous, helter-skelter, drama-packed story.
Thanks for getting this far in exploring my site, and I believe you will thoroughly enjoy my take on the wonderful story of SpaceShipOne.
Table of Contents
The active links below will let you read those chapters. The rest… well, I hope my samples and summaries are enough to make you jump right over to the order page!
|FOREWORD by Burt Rutan|
He, of course, speaks for himself.
Typical author stuff – my motivations and intentions. The book presents my observations as I weave in and out of the action, inside of Burt’s world. And that world is a rich canvas, which is the fascinating and entertaining mosaic of the SpaceShipOne program.
|Chapter 1: THERE I WAS…|
The first rocket-powered flight of SpaceShipOne. The highest risk flight of the program, that sets the stage and tone for all that follows and makes imminently clear the meaning behind the book’s title.
Read a page-image version of this chapter!
|Chapter 2: MAGIC LOST|
A little soul searching as a result of Chapter 1; some insight into what makes me tick and a vivid example of what will be a theme running through the book – my distressing ability to get myself into, and narrowly escape from, many life-threatening events. Described as ‘cat lives,’ the first one: Cat Life (#1) delivered here.
|Chapter 3: BURT RUTAN|
My introduction of Burt Rutan, how we met, and his charismatic and fun-filled nature. Our friendship developed while we learned to surrender to the occasionally delightful, but more often humbling, and exasperating experiences that are the nature of the game of golf.
|Chapter 4: ROTARY UNRAVELED|
Some background of the Mojave based company I joined after the Navy, including one of the harrowing exploits it presented as another Cat Life (#10). That program formed the basis of Burt’s belief that if I could handle their ungainly “contraption,” I would be a prime candidate for his SpaceShipOne.
|Chapter 5: HISTORY REPEATED|
The genesis of the XPRIZE, its challenges, and some foreshadowing of how it paved a crooked path to sustain my flickering hope of becoming an astronaut.
|Chapter 6: X-RATED PILOTS AND PROGRAMS|
Welcome to Burt’s Scaled Composites, its purpose, motivations and some of the prominent people that made the company work. An amusing comparison between Scaled, Rotary Rocket and an important Navy program I worked, provides the basis for my confidence in Burt going forward.
|Chapter 7: AMAZING TALENT|
A detailed introduction to the design of SpaceShipOne, Burt’s passion, and his ability to galvanize others to his way of thinking.
|Chapter 8: POLITICS AND MINEFIELDS|
More insight into the inner workings of Scaled and the difficulties I had fitting in – starting with an episode during my first hour there.
|Chapter 9: THE FUNNY FARM|
Still more revelations about how Burt ran his company and his ability to entertain, offend, yet fascinate others by his unconventional and contrarian viewpoints.
|Chapter 10: A SLOW LEARNER|
Further development on the troublesome pattern I had with fitting into new organizations and groups. Brings up a question asked of me from a college girlfriend, “what’s slow and from Scotland?” that becomes another recurring theme. A review of Cat Lives (#2) and (#3).
|Chapter 11: NAVY DAYS — A GOOD START|
My first experience in an operational squadron and I run up against a brick wall named Bud Orr — its Commanding Officer. He nearly scuttles my military career but will make a surprising reappearance 25 years later. Further adventures before arriving there are Cat Lives (#4), (#5) & (6).
|Chapter 12: THE REAL NAVY|
Finally, I get selected for the Navy’s Test Pilot School and backtrack a few years to Princeton, where that dream was kindled. Some carrier deployment adventures described, including Desert Storm and a harrowing carrier approach, which stack up Cat Lives (#7), (#8), and (#9).
|Chapter 13: LIFE IN THE FAST LANE |
Back to Scaled after the SpaceShipOne contract is signed and some run-ins with Burt over program management and golf. These skirmishes set the stage for further conflicts ahead.
|Chapter 14: SOUL SEARCHING|
Presents the challenges and achievements of Peter Siebold and Jim Tighe and more evidence of the high caliber people Burt had attracted to the program. Between them, they developed the space ship’s vital avionics display and equally valuable ground-based simulator.
|Chapter 15: THE WHITE KNUCKLED KNIGHT|
Finally, the first account of flight testing involving schedule pressures, technical hurdles, and the mighty mothership. My first flight was full of unexpected failures and anxiety—more foreshadowing of my uncanny ability to find trouble where others sailed through unscarred.
|Chapter 16: ROCKETS RED GLARE|
The first firing of our rocket motor, with me at the helm, and the near-disaster it turned out to be. Suddenly, the reality of what we were trying to accomplish and the demons we needed to slay became a sobering reality.
|Chapter 17: STARS AND STRIPES|
All the false starts and escalating pressure by Paul Allen’s team to unveil SS1 for the first time to the world via a highly scripted rollout event. Here was Burt Rutan at his best in the spotlight. Immediately following this event is even more pressure to get it to first flight.
|Chapter 18: SAILPLANES AND SPACESHIPS|
The only requirement by the FAA to fly the space ship was a commercial glider rating. This seemingly simple task came with more adventures. Described are some fundamental differences between SS1 and other ‘normal’ gliders.
|Chapter 19: “SPACESHIPONE’S A DREAM!”|
Finally, the first glide flight of SS1. Mike Melvill makes it look easy, and confidence soars.
|Chapter 20: A SETUP FOR TROUBLE|
2nd Flight. Difficulties with the spaceship’s avionics abort the first attempt. Some avionics’ limitations would reveal themselves in the follow-on attempt and conspire to almost causing the loss of the vehicle.
|Chapter 21: SOME MENACE REVEALED|
The second glide flight took a major leap forward by testing the vehicle in its re-entry, or ‘feather configuration.’ On return to the field for landing, a chain of events sets Mike Melvill up for a landing that, in someone else’s hand, could have resulted in the crash of the vehicle.
|Chapter 22: MAJOR MENACE EXPOSED|
The third glide flight is another aggressive leap in testing the vehicle. The conditions were to simulate SS1’s handling qualities in the event to rocket motor could not be lit. This flight again almost cost us the vehicle were it not for some alert and snappy help from Mission Control and a cool-under-pressure Mike Melvill. Also, for this flight, new landing gear doors were added that produced so much drag the space ship barely made it back to the runway, averting another potential disaster. It was starting to feel like we had to dip into the well of Hail Mary’s almost every flight and at some point, our luck would run out.
|Chapter 23: BACK TO BASICS|
The near-disastrous 3rd flight required we go back to the drawing board and redesign the tails of SpaceShipOne. Incredibly this was all accomplished in a short 2-week timeframe.
|Chapter 24: MUMBLINGS AND RUMBLINGS|
Peter and I are starting to feel like unnecessary members of the SS1 development program. Pervasive was the old Catch-22 conundrum that the only guy qualified to fly was the guy already doing so.
|Chapter 25: MORE MENACE AND HAND WRINGING|
Mike back in the cockpit for the 4th glide flight reveals yet more issues with the tails, and finally, we decide to build new, larger ones. This effort would incur more program delays but a necessary evil to have better confidence moving forward. These larger tails, of course, would produce unintended consequences that would only surface later during the first powered flight. Meantime I’m blindsided by more of Scaled’s confusing management behavior, and I’m starting to panic that I’m invisible.
|Chapter 26: PETE’S TURN WITH SPACESHIPONE|
The 5th glide flight and Pete’s first in SpaceShipOne. He performed flawlessly.
|Chapter 27: SPACESHIPONE PACIFIED|
The 6th glide flight with Mike Melvill back at the controls to give his seasoned opinion of the new tails. Mike reports again, “it flew like a dream” — the same words he used after the first flight. So, after four months, we were finally back to where we started. Heh.
|Chapter 28: RULES OF ENGAGEMENT|
With the powered flight program looming on the horizon, it was time to square up with the FAA. They had never previously regulated a private reusable, manned space program, and their employees were all from the old school of those big boosters that never came home. It became immediately apparent that they and Burt did not see eye to eye, and the ensuing battles were fascinating to witness.
|Chapter 29: ACTUALLY, IT IS ROCKET SCIENCE|
With two vendors vying for the privilege to power SS1 to space, the see-saw competition to see who would emerge on top was another dramatic series of events that left everyone breathless right up to the moment of the winner’s selection.
|Chapter 30: FINAL GLIDE EXPANSION FLIGHT|
The 7th and final glide flight and my first time in the space ship. Viewed as a “mop-up” flight, even though every point on the test card was a new edge-of-the-envelope expansion. I felt all the pressure of the program, as there was nothing to gain and everything to lose.
|Chapter 31: LOOKING UP…WAY UP|
Finally, the moment of truth, the 1st powered flight as described in the opening chapter. With everything unknown about the vehicle, this flight was the riskiest by an order of magnitude, and arguably the playground for another Cat Life. I don’t repeat any of the Chapter 1 details but rather explain other factors that made the flight far more exciting than it needed to be, including flight control changes that resulted in a crash landing. My sanity, from this point on until the program’s finale, became an internal war, some ten months of constant struggle I fought to contain.
|Chapter 32: LOOKING DOWN…WAY DOWN|
More details and engineering analysis of the landing. Burt recounts a golfing story about Doug Sanders, a professional golfer who misses a 2-foot putt to win the British Open at St Andrew’s. That story becomes my albatross, and with it, my eroding confidence and sanity.
|Chapter 33: THE TWILIGHT ZONE|
Without question, the strangest event I’ve ever experienced. Easy to describe, but near impossible to digest. For someone already grasping at straws, my take away was the most basic of wishful tenets – HOPE.
|Chapter 34: HARD WORK AND HOPE|
Back from Christmas leave, the team reassembles and proceeds to fix all that is broken on SS1 with Scaled’s typical efficiency and dedication to detail.
|Chapter 35: BACK IN THE SADDLE|
A return to flight – another glide flight, flown by Peter, to check out the harmony of the flight controls and assess the effectiveness of the many other changes made. Everything looks good, and we’re back in business again for powered flights.
|Chapter 36: THE FASTIDIOUS FAA|
The ongoing battle with the FAA finally reaches its inexorable and maddening conclusion. The next powered flight needs their blessing, which required Burt to finally concede to each and every one of their demands he had previously vigorously resisted.
|Chapter 37: TOO SMART BY HALF|
Pete’s first powered flight. Just something as innocuous as an unnecessary flight card addition produced doubt in Peter to light the motor, and what followed was a painful two-minute exchange with Mission Control before they convinced him to proceed as planned. As a result of the lower ignition altitude, the flight failed to achieve vital test data.
|Chapter 38: SPACESHIPONE TAUNTS|
Mike gets the nod for the next powered flight, and despite losing the ship’s avionics display, he continues to fly the vehicle just referencing the evenness of the light he perceives with his peripheral vision. Later he is criticized for “flying blind” and being reckless. The stage is now set for a decision who will become the world’s first private astronaut.
|Chapter 39: GOING FOR GOLD|
Preparations for the next powered flight entrained everyone within the organization and at our newly minted Mojave Inland Spaceport. The facade that Burt and Doug are struggling with who might be selected for the next big event continues. I finally let Doug know my blunt feelings about how divisive I thought his running of the flight test program had made the pilots.
|Chapter 40: FIRST PRIVATE ASTRONAUT|
What a most excellent adventure! Witnessed by tens of thousands of spectators and every TV, Cable, and Internet provider around the world. An epic flight with challenges, scares, and uncertainty from start to finish. But, all’s well that ends well, and now SpaceShipOne is etched into history.
|Chapter 41: THE XPRIZE LOOMS LARGE|
The challenges of preparing for the X-Prize flights have everyone scrambling for a solution to achieve what was just barely accomplished in the previous effort but with now the burden of carrying 600 lbs of payload. Much effort is spent scheming ways to augment the rocket motor, which leaves the engineers frazzled and the pilots concerned. A contentious cover article from Popular Science is less than flattering, causing more drama among the pilot core. On the heels of this is yet another SETP symposium that produces unexpected recognition. A bombshell is revealed right afterward as the final preparations for the first X-Prize flight are in work.
|Chapter 42: X1 – THE MENACE OF SPACESHIPONE (16P)|
An unexpected last-minute shuffle in the pilot line up sends shock waves through the company. With the now-familiar crowds and media in attendance, the flight is looking picture-perfect until the space ship departs controlled flight – entering a series of high-speed spins as it exits the atmosphere. With all this drama being beamed down, real-time, to the world, it wasn’t long before the critics weighed in predicting that Burt Rutan better cease and desist before he kills someone.
|Chapter 43: LATE BREAKING BRILLIANCE|
With the X-Prize clock ticking, the smart guys at Scaled go to battle stations and, by the next afternoon, develop a new way to fly the vehicle that will still get it above the 100km bar while avoiding the awful optics of the previous flight. On a Thursday night, Burt announces that the next, and hopefully, final X-Prize attempt will be on the following Monday. Steve Losey, SS1 Crew Chief — tired of the secrecy, demands to know who’s going to fly it.
|Chapter 44: THE DAY OF RECKONING|
With no further drama necessary, the Sunday night before and the Monday morning ‘man up’ produce a string of surprises and even more pressure from Burt. He shockingly claims on National TV that on this day the world would witness not just a Home Run, but a Grand Slam!
|Chapter 45: X2 – FLYING WITH ANGELS|
This final flight is later described as “bullet straight” and “picture perfect.” The challenges of the new profile and how it was flown are described. Covered in detail, for future participants, is the magic that awaits them!
|Chapter 46: A GOOD FINISH|
The program’s final and most significant accolade — winning the coveted Collier Trophy. This award is Aerospace’s equivalent of the Oscars, and by the sheer coincidence, my life comes full circle, being unexpectedly on stage with a nemesis from my checkered past.
|Chapter 47: AFTERMATH|
A brief tribute to my friend Burt Rutan and SpaceShipOne’s torchbearer Sir Richard Branson. Then a short story about a chance meeting I had with the icon of space – Neil Armstrong and from it a final message for the reader.