Katharine Wright

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

Katharine Wright

Katharine Wright, sister of Orville and Wilbur Wright, inventors of the first heavier than air powered flying machine, was the only Wright sibling to graduate from college.

Interestingly, Milton Wright, the children’s father, claimed that he gave his children distinctive first names so that they had no need for middle names. In addition, Katharine’s brothers bestowed upon her the nickname of “Swes” which is an affectionate German derivative for “Little Sister.”

Although she was indeed her brothers little sister, Katharine had a short childhood, since her mother Susan Wright’s early death from the effects of tuberculosis when Katharine was but 15, threw her into the role of the lady of the house with all its duties. The loss was devastating for her, but at a suggestion by her father, Katharine found solace in the collection of many varieties of flowers which she dried and pressed into an album that she kept with her always.

Not only did Katharine have household duties, but she also inherited other responsibilities. Because her father was a Bishop and an important leader in the United Brethren Church, Katharine found that she must also be a hostess at her father’s church functions at home and when he traveled as well as being head of the Wright household.

Actually there were five Wright children in the Wright household, but the youngest ones, Orville, Wilbur and Katharine were exceptionally close as they were growing up. It has been speculated that Will, Orv, and Kate had made a pact never to marry. Since the three of them enjoyed each other’s company. However, as Katharine grew into adulthood, she drew the attention of quite a few gentleman admirers, related to the fact that she was described as “Having coal black hair, deep blue eyes and a smile that could blind you.” She was also very out-going and comfortable engaging anyone in conversation.

It was her father, Milton, who determined that Katharine should have the advantage of attending a college so that she could realize a career to depend upon. It was he who chose teaching as the ideal career opportunity for Katharine. She excelled in the language arts, but did not do well in mathematics. Katharine attended the co-educational Oberlin College in Northern Ohio, one of the first to admit women and did indeed graduate with a teaching degree. Katharine returned to her home town of Dayton, Ohio, and taught at Steele High School. Her first assignment was to teach beginning Latin.

By 1901, Katharine found that her Latin class, a required course for all the students, had poor students as well as good ones and some disruptive students. As the only sister of four older brothers, she was no stranger to boisterous behavior. That and her self-assurance and natural bossiness made her more than a match for teenage boys. She was ready for them and nipped their smartness in the bud.

Managing to bring some of the rich social life she had enjoyed in college home to Dayton with her, Katharine initiated parties, bicycle outings and camping trips from her home. When Orville and Wilbur were working on achieving actual flight for their heavier than air powered flying machine, Katharine helped them by watching over their bicycle shop, paying bills, depositing receipts and fighting with the help. {She and Charlie Taylor, the Wright’s machinist, were not fond of one another}

In 1902 when the brothers were laboring at home before taking their plans to Kitty Hawk, NC, Katharine complained “the flying machine is in the process of making now. Will spins the sewing machine around by the hour while Orv squats around marking the places to sew. There is no place in the house to live but I’ll be lonesome enough by this time next week and wish that I could have some of their racket around.”

However, Katharine found another phase added to her life when extended family members needed care-giving following illness and then again when Orville was seriously injured from a crash while flying, she took emergency leave from teaching school to tend to his needs.

When the Wrights went to Europe in 1907, Katharine’s found that her unofficial position for them at home increased. She corresponded with newspapers and magazines for them and answered queries for scientific information, screened business offers and politely handled cranks.

In 1909 Katharine requested an extended leave of absence and traveled with Orville to join Wilbur in France to help sell their flying machine to the French. Katharine provided the social chemistry the Wrights needed to make their enterprise work. She also learned to speak fluent French while she was there.

When Katharine returned home, she renewed her friendship with a gentleman by the name of Harry Haskell she had met at Oberlin College and that led to marriage. It was a marriage that was frowned upon by her brother Orville, who refused to speak to her after she had married. In spite of Orville’s painfully selfish reaction to her marriage, Katharine was extremely happy in her new life. Then when Katharine fell ill with pneumonia, and lay dying, Orville finally relented and hurried to her side just before she passed on.

File Photo: Bain News Service

Hall of Fame Honors Foster and Ride

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

The National Aviation Hall of Fame located in Dayton, Ohio enshrined five legends of Flight in their class of 2007 on July 21, 2007. They are Walter Boyne, Steve Fossett, Evelyn Johnson, Sally Ride and Frederick Smith. They join 190 legends already honored in the hall of fame. Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first to be enshrined.

Here is a brief description of each honoree:

Walter J. Boyne

Boyne, 77, joined the Air Force in 1951. He flew bombers, B-50 and B-41 in combat, later was a Nuclear Test pilot flying the B-47 and B-52. After serving in Vietnam, he retired and in 1974 joined the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. He eventually became director.

He has written more than 500 articles, 28 nonfiction books and four novels, all focusing on aviation. Several have appeared on the New York Bestseller list.

Steve Fossett

Fossett, 63, is a record setting daredevil who holds 116 records in five different sports. He has aviation records in jet and piston powered aircraft, gliders, dirigibles and balloons. He was the first to complete a solo balloon trip around the globe. Three years later he was the first person to fly a plane, the Virgin Atlantic GlobalFlyer, solo around the world without refueling.

In February 2006 he flew the longest distance, non-stop aircraft flight in the GlobalFlyer. In August 2006, Foster and co-pilot, Einar Enevoldson, set a world glider altitude record of 50,671 feet.

Evelyn Bryan Johnson

Johnson, 97, took flying lessons in 1944. Three years later she began giving flying lessons. She has trained some 60,000 pilots giving her the record for giving more Federal aviation Administration exams than any other living pilot.

She is the 20th woman in the U. S. to earn a helicopter pilot’s license.

She has been inducted into the Flight Instructor’s Hall of Fame, Women in Aviation’s International Pioneer Hall of Fame and both the Tennessee and Kentucky Hall’s of Fame.

Sally K. Ride

Ride, 56, was the first U. S. woman in space when she flew aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. She returned to space aboard the Challenger in 1984. She was scheduled for a third mission to space but it was cancelled by the Challenger accident in January 1986. She served on the board that investigated the Challenger accident.

Ride earned a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford in 1978. Dr. Ride is the author of five books, President and CEO of Sally Ride science, and an advocate for improving and emphasizing science education for young girls.

Frederick W. Smith

Smith, 62, is CEO and Chairman of FedEx Corporation. He began flying at age 15, working as a crop duster. While attending Yale University he wrote a term paper outlining his concept for a company guaranteeing delivery of time-sensitive material overnight.

After graduation he joined the marines and served two tours in Vietnam. He flew more than 200 ground support missions, earning a Silver Star, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.

In 1971 at the age of 27 he formed Federal Express based on his college term paper. It is today a $32 billion, 280,000-employee business with service in more than 220 countries and territories.

The National Aviation Hall of Fame is a non-profit organization that relies solely on membership, donations, grants, and sponsorships. It was founded in 1962 and later established by Congress.

References: Heroes and Legends, Winter/Spring 2007; Dayton Daily News, July 23, 2007.

Spacecraft Earns $40 Million

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

It took six years to develop, but for the second time in five days, a piloted reusable suborbital spacecraft, SpaceShipOne, flew into the fringes of space, nearly 70 miles (367,442 feet) above the earth, before gliding back to a safe landing in the Mojave Desert. In so doing it flew seven miles higher than the arbitrary line marking the beginning of space and won the $10-million Ansari X Prize and became the first privately developed plane to rocket into space.

The previous record for a space plane was held by the military developed X-15 that reached an altitude of 67 miles (354,200 feet) in 1963.

The X prize-winning flight on October 4, 1904 coincided with the 43rd-anniversary of the Soviet Union’s 184-pound Sputnik I that triggered the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Also sadly, it coincided with the death of astronaut Gordon Cooper, 77, who flew the last Mercury mission-Faith 7 on May 1963.

There was jubilation close to that of the Wright Brothers achievement when the spacecraft landed. Some people have called the achievement a new era in flight and have compared the feat to the Wright Brothers historic flight, calling the Mojave the new Kitty Hawk. One observer remarked, “It feels a little bit like Kitty Hawk must have.”

Unlike the Wright Brother’s flight nearly 101 years ago, which stirred little interest or press, the event was documented live on television and around the world, by many major news agencies, including CNN, ABC, Fox, Reuters, Associated Press, to name a few.

The X prize set requirements that included altitude (at least 100 kilometers), and vehicle reliability (the spacecraft flies twice within 2 weeks).

A piloted turbojet known as the White Knight carried SpaceShipOne to nearly 50,000 feet (above nearly 85% of the Earth’s atmosphere). There, SpaceShipOne fired its rocket for 84 seconds, climbing in a vertical trajectory at speeds of near three times the speed of sound. After reaching just under 70 miles above the Earth and experiencing several minutes of weightlessness, it coasted back into the Earth’s atmosphere where the pilot took over control and flew it as a glider to a landing at Mojave Airport.

It was a flawless flight in contrast to the two previous flights in which the pilot experienced control problems, but still completed the mission.

The X Prize foundation hopes to stimulate the same sort of proliferation of technologies and enterprise seen after the Wright brothers’ pioneering flight. Peter Diamandis, a businessman, established the X Prize eight years ago with the objective being to spur commercial space travel. He plans to present the $10 million dollar check to Mojave Aerospace Ventures in St. Louis on Nov. 6. Burt Rutan, the craft’s designer, and Paul Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder who provided some $20 million to support the project, founded the winning partnership known as Mojave Aerospace Ventures.

Anousheh Ansari, an Iran-born engineer who made a fortune in telecommunications provided most of the $10 million for the prize. The X Prize is modeled after the $25,000 Orteig Prize that was won by Charles Lindbergh in 1927 for flying nonstop over the Atlantic Ocean. Lindbergh’s grandson, Erik Lindbergh, is a trustee and vice-president of the X Prize Foundation.

Rutan says he will share the prize money with his employees at Scaled Composites, his company. The prize attracted more than two dozen teams from around the world.

The Wrights also privately financed their Flyer, although they weren’t millionaires.

Rutan has designed some of the oddest and innovative airplanes in the world over a career of 30 years. Like the Wright brothers, he is known for putting together known technologies into innovative ways to form new systems.

Rutan designed Voyager, a plane that flew nonstop around the world without refueling. He is considered by some as a national treasure.

The SpaceShipOne demonstrates two technological breakthroughs. One is a safer hybrid rocket engine, the first developed for human space flight since 1972. The second is the use of the ship’s movable tail section that folds up to serve as an airbrake as the plane descends.

After the prize-winning flight of SpaceShipOne, Rutan said: “Our success proves without question that manned space flight does not require mammoth government expenditures. It can be done by a small company with limited resources and a few dozen dedicated employees.”

In 1908, there were only 10 pilots in the world, including the Wright brothers. By 1912, after Wilbur flew in France in 1909, there were thousands of pilots. Many of the pilots must have said to themselves that if two bicycles makers can fly so can I.

Only 434 people have flown in space and they were trained and funded by governments. We now have two space pilots that have been awarded commercial astronaut wings by the FAA – Brian Binnie and Mike Melvill, the two pilots that flew the prize-winning flights. They are two of four pilots that have been trained to fly SpaceShipOne.

Binnie said after the second prize-winning flight, “flying this vehicle is literally a rush.”

Diamandis has announced the foundation of an annual X Prize cup to begin in December 2006 to maintain the momentum by sponsoring “space races.” The event aims to launch 50 space flights over a 10-day period with cash prizes given for such categories as altitude, speed and passenger capacity.

“We have to one winner here today, which is spectacular. But it’s insufficient to have a monopoly once again. We need to have a competitive market. We need to push the envelope to go higher, further and faster.”

The British billionaire tycoon and owner of Virgin Airlines, Richard Branson, has joined the effort by announcing that he plans to take tourists to space for a fee of around $200,000. He has formed a space tourism company named Virgin Galactic to license the technology from Rutan’s Mojave Aerospace Ventures and for Scaled Composites to build the first of five space-liners next year and fly paying passengers in suborbital flights as early as 2007. The first space-liner has already been named – V.S.S. Enterprise.

Branson plans to locate ships in several countries. He has already received 5,000 inquiries for tickets.

Profits generated will be used to develop a new generation of spacecraft capable of orbital flights capable of visits around the moon and space hotels.

Some critics have denigrated the use of SpaceShipOne as a vehicle for tourism. The Wrights, too, didn’t have a clear idea of how to use the airplane. The first uses were military. It took another 20 years for commercial travel by airplanes to become practical.

X Prize supporters hope to demonstrate that low-cost space travel is practical and profitable. Over time private ventures are expected to cut the cost of space travel through volume, innovation and attention to the bottom line. The first NASA space shuttle flew in 1981. It costs NASA over $1 billion for each launch of the shuttle.

Space flights are not without risk. FAA’s Blakey said, “There will be a bad day sooner or later. As long as potential passengers truly understand the risks, the government approach would be caveat aviator. This country was founded on people who are risk-takers.”

Rutan says he intends to build commercial craft that are at least 100 times safer than anything that has ever flown man to space.

What’s Wrong with Aviation?

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

An Article by Albert S. Levino in Harpers Weekly, 1912 (with some modifications)

By 1912 aviation had some great inventors and many daring aviators, but had yet to produce a great commercial mind. Mechanically, the airplane had made swift strides in its brief tenure of life more than any other means of transportation did in twice the time. Commercially, the American airplane industry is not one bit better off today than it was three years ago.

This is the conclusion of a feature article in Harper’s Weekly.

The article postulates several causes for this state of affairs:

Too much exhibition business, which has over exploited the airplane and failed to establish its practical value.
Too much publicity, with too many promises impossible of fulfillment.
The obsessing desire for quick profits rather than steady, normal returns.
Failure to develop cheap but efficient and reliable power plants.
Too many airplane manufacturers.
No development of markets.

Crowds flock to the most dangerous turns of an auto race. Attention is always riveted on the “dip of death” in a circus rather than on a cleverly trained animal.

Robert Fulton’s Clermont once crowed the Hudson’s banks and Stevenson’s Rocket brought thousands to stare, deprecate, or wonder.

Only ten years have passed since a feature of Buffalo Bill’s show was a “horseless carriage.”

We are all looking for thrills. But, once this appetite is satisfied it is almost impossible to arouse scientific or commercial interest in the thriller unless its performances have demonstrated the practicability of the device, and unless they have created a demand for it and made it an urgent necessity.

Airplane exhibitions once provided remunerative thrills. But people quickly learned that as the number of airmen increased, the number of accidents increased; that manufacturers were exploiting merely the novelty and not the usefulness of the product; and they could witness flights from outside the fence quite as well as if they paid a dollar to enter the aerodrome.

They began to look elsewhere than to the airplane for their amusement. Airplanes became too common to lead people even to turn their heads to look at them, let alone pay to see them.

The price of passenger flights fell in twelve short months from $500 to $25, $10, and even $5. Satiety had overtaken curiosity. The wonder of one year had become the commonplace of the next.

Unfortunately for the honest manufacturer, he soon had to cope with a factor even more discouraging than public apathy. The dishonest element that attaches itself to every new industry did not fail to grasp the opportunity presented by the art of flying.

Soon aviation was crowded with this irresponsible, get-rich-quick-gentry. Exhibition flyers frequently left the ground only when they cared to and then for such short flights as they cared to make.

Alleged self-styled aviators, incompetent in every respect, and with machines so badly constructed as to be dangerous to the spectators, cut to one-half the prices asked by good flyers.

Outrageous promises, that ranged from the agreement to land from any building in a city to the free carrying of passengers in machines which later proved unable to leave the ground with only the pilot aboard, were frequent.

President W. Linford Smith of the Pittsburg Aero Club was driven to comment:

“I favored disarmament with the coming of airplanes until I heard and saw at Brunot Island just how much trouble a capful of wind makes for these flying-machines. I now suggest that the only defense needed by war-vessels from air-fleets will be electric fans.”

Undoubtedly the reader, as he opened his morning paper, has read from time to time the announcement that “John Jones, the famous aviator, will today fly over the city” or “will start on a record breaking cross-country journey” or “will fly to shore from the Hamburg-American liner Potsdam, leaving the vessel’s deck after she has passed forty miles out to sea.”

Thereafter nothing more has been heard of John Jones’s promised flight. This has happened so frequently, there has been such a discrepancy between promise and performance by an all-too-numerous type of aviator, that nowadays the public is placing aviation statements on the same level as the “wolf, wolf” cry of the fabled shepherd.

It has been the marvel of many who know the care with which newspapers are edited that space is so forthcoming for almost any kind of statement so long as it was the magic word “aviation” in it.

The most nonsensical utterances of half-crazy inventors whose actions showed they had not the first idea of even the rudiments of human flight; lengthy descriptions of revolutionary machines which turned out to be abortive copies of standard types built by some chauffeur or street cleaner or shoemaker in a barn, hayloft, or cellar. Manifestly puerile statements are made regarding the future of the airplane, and how it will drive both railroad train and steamship out of business.

For these and similar absurdities, there seems to be a 365-days long silly season against which not even the sanest city editor appears immune.

Conceive any normal man swallowing the yarn that the Pennsylvania railroad had a new locomotive that would haul a twelve-car train without stopping from Chicago to New York in ten hours!

Yet is that half as stupid as the widely statement made a few months ago by a well known British airman, that an airplane with a 2,000-hp motor carrying 4,000 people will cross the Atlantic in 15-hours.

Maybe someday a man will go to bed in New York and awaken in London; also, there may come a time when a man will retire on earth and dress on Mars, but newspapers do not print serious articles in anticipation of the events.

Frank Coffyn, The Wright pilot who has carried more passengers that any other aviator in the world recently commented on the statement of a prominent cross-country flyer that he was going to start across the Atlantic next August in a hydro-biplane with himself and a mechanic as passengers and operators.

“He said he’s going to take 2000 gallons of gasoline with him,” said Mr. Coffyn. “There’s a weight of 1,400 pounds to start with in fuel alone, not making mention of lubricant, food, etc. and Breguet, who managed last October to lift a total weight of about 1,400 pounds beside his machine stayed aloft for only 5-minutes!

Is it possible to cross the Atlantic in an airplane very soon? Why, it’s possible now — but only Heaven knows when it will be accomplished!”

It is on such publicity that many aviation stock companies are formed. Generous promoters have dropped mines and covered carpet-tacks for the more lucrative airplane. Today the market is fairly flooded with $1, $5, and $10 shares of aviation shares of aviation stock, whose promoters offer anything from 7 to 50 percent dividends. Rich as is the future of the flying machine, the airplane industry can no more support get-rich-quick parasites than can any other business.

There is general recognition that the heart of the airplane is its motor. Yet, though the United States gave the flying machine to the world and today manufactures more automobiles than all countries put together, no American airplane motor has yet been developed that compares in efficiency with a French engine.

That foreign motor today holds every world’s record, excepting only Loridan’s duration flight. But its cost, particularly with 45 percent import duty added, practically prohibits its general use in this country.

What a field there is here for our automobile manufacturers! There is an Aladdin fortune awaiting the man who delivers a dependable efficient, economical 50-horsepower airplane engine, weighing not over 3-pounds per horsepower, for $1,000, or even $1,500. For the very best flying machine built today can be produced for $500 except for its power plant. And it is in the manufacture and sale of a reliable airplane retailing at about $3,000 that the biggest dividends will be found.

There are now in the United States six airplane-manufacturing firms. All six companies sold fewer than 20 airplanes in this country in 1911. The Wright, Farman, Bleriot, Nieuport, Breguet, and Deperdussin firms are the only manufacturers who earned $25,000 clear last year.

Suppose that the Wrights in this country or the Farmans in France – both tremendously wealthy firms – were to cut the price of their machines to $3,000. What would happen to the builders? The airplane has out stripped the industry. Its mechanism is far ahead of its commercial development.

I asked several men prominently identified with American aviation to give Harper’s Weekly their ideas as to what was the matter commercially. Here is what they said:

Wilbur Wright: “What my brother and I want to do is to conserve the business. What the average man, neither daredevil nor simpleton, can safely do with the airplane is the problem with which we are concerned. There is a splendid future for the flying machine, but conservative and sound business methods must be invoked to develop and sustain the industry. To my mind miscellaneous exhibitions and too much of the wrong kind of publicity are the chief troubles of aviation. No other industry would stand for these features. Aviation cannot.”

Ernest L Jones, editor of Aeronautics, oldest American periodical in its field: “There are too many fakers in the business. The stock-selling crowd has scared away the conservative rich man who might back a well-run firm. There has been too little commercial development of the airplane and too much hip-hip-hurrah business.”

“Including airplanes and accessories, not more than four American firms are doing business on a sound scale and basis. The others have been too busy getting the easy money and letting future development take care of itself.”

Frank Coffyn, leading passenger-carrying aviator: “Almost every ill to which aviation in this country has fallen heir to is due to the exhibition circuit end of the game and to faking that has been done there and in publicity. It is curious, too, how much more national governments are bent on testing the merits of airplanes for war purposes than for trade or travel. Surely if flying machines meet the exacting demands of military authorities as machines of destruction, they are certain to be a great deal more useful and far more numerous in the occupations of peace.”

Hugo Gibson, propeller manufacturer: “The support aviation gets today is on the basis of unreasonable profits from spectacular and death-invoking antics. Aviation is a science and requires an army of scientific workers, not nerveless incompetents or high-strung scatterbrains. Businessmen are needed in aviation, even more than engineers.”

“There is no finer or more exhilarating sport than flying. And in the hands of careful, conservative pilots, knowing the exact capacity of their machines, the present-day airplane is considerably safer than the public has been led to believe it is. But trying to loop-the-loop, ego-born steep dives and the Dutch roll, excessive banking, spiral end-on turns, racing around one, or even 5-mile tracks, etc., are not the functions of the flying machine. Performing any or all of these “stunts” avails nothing in giving us the commercial airplane which may be relied upon as the automobile is today for pleasure and for trade.”

The airplane has a future that neither expert nor lay mind can define. The serious, practical side of flying is an almost an unknown quantity because aviation has so far been mostly circus “stunts.” Shorn of these features and the end of exhibitions and meets are fortunately now in sight. The airplane will come into its own.

SpaceShipOne Flies Again

by Dr. Richard Stimson

in Others

On Wednesday September 29th SpaceShipOne successfully flew again in the pursuit of the X Prize competition worth $10 million. One more successful flight and they will have won it.

Here is the criteria for the winning the prize: the winning team must privately finance, build and launch a spacecraft that can carry three people 62 miles above the Earth’s surface, return safely to Earth, and then do it again within two weeks. Some 26 teams from seven countries are vying for the prize. The 62-mile threshold is generally accepted as the point where the Earth’s atmosphere ends and space begins.

The SpaceShipOne team is planning on completing the second flight requirement on Monday October 4th, although they have until October 13 at 0834 to make the attempt.

On Sept. 29 at 0712 the SpaceShipOne rocket ship attached to the White Knight, the carrier airplane, left the Mojave, California runway before thousands of spectators. The White Knight with its payload climbed to about an altitude of 48,000 feet where SpaceShipOne detached from the White Knight and its rockets fired, sending SpaceShipOne roaring straight up for about 2 minutes. Its bright streak toward space could be seen from the ground.

Before reaching apogee the pilot, Mike Melvill, experienced some nervous moments as the spacecraft began to spin unexpectedly as it sped through space at nearly three times the speed of sound. Melvill said later that he figures there were at least 20 turns, with some of them at a high rate producing a corkscrew like flight path. “I’m not sure what kicked it off,” he said. “It was probably something I did.”

Rutan, the designer of the craft, didn’t think it was pilot error. Instead he suggested it was the result of the “dihedral effect” in which air buffeting the spacecraft at an angle causes it to roll.

The spin caused the worried flight controllers on the ground to advise Melvill to abort his ascent, but Melvill was close to the goal of at least 62 miles altitude and kept going a few more seconds before shutting down the engine eleven seconds earlier than planned.

He achieved 64 miles (337,500 feet). After landing at 0833 without further incident he said, “I did a victory roll at the top.” “You just cannot describe what a feeling this is. Maybe I’m crazy.”

The first test flight last June 21st also had control problems. In this instance, the craft unexpectedly rolled to the left and then to the right and developed trim problems as the craft experienced horizontal wind shear. That problem was fixed and a new engine was designed to provide 20% greater thrust.

Experiencing control problems with experimental craft is not new. The Wright brothers had their own problems with controlling the Flyer.

An interesting aspect of the flight is that employees of Burt Rutan’s company, Scaled Composites, contributed personal items to simulate the weight of two additional passengers to provide the 400 pounds required under the X Prize rules. All items were carefully weighed and sealed in boxes. The items included tools, toys, pictures of children, a prized watch and the ashes of Rutan’s deceased mother.

The X Prize is spurring private space flight. Just recently Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Airways, announced the formation of a new company, Virgin Galactic, for the purpose of offering space jaunts in 2007. He plans to license the technology from Mojave Aerospace Ventures, a company founded by Rutan and Paul Allen, the billionaire cofounder of Microsoft and investor in the SpaceShipOne venture.

Tickets will cost about $208,000 for a 2-hour flight. They expect to fly 3,000 new astronauts in the first 5 years. Only a few civilians have flown into space and they paid much larger sums of money to ride on ships operated by the Russian government.

The biggest hurtle to space tourism may be legal and regulatory rather than technical. The House passed a bill earlier this year creating a licensing system. A similar bill is languishing in the Senate. A bill may not pass this year.

Melvill is scheduled to speak at the EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh on December 17th at a program observing the anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight.