Last week my friend Jeanne and I headed down to Mojave to see a test flight of the White Knight Two and Virgin Galactic’s new suborbital space plane SpaceShipTwo. Unable to go onto the airport, we parked in the desert along the highway to watch the fun. I had borrowed my husband’s camera and for reasons that I will soon reveal, have decided that it would be a good idea if I actually read the directions and learned how to use it.
It was a gorgeous Mojave Desert morning, the perfect temperature, no wind. First the insect-like Proteus with its predatory nose and thin double wings took off and circled heavenward. Jeanne said it was probably checking out the winds aloft. Through the binoculars I was able to see White Knight Two sitting on the runway, its lights blinking. Even from a considerable distance I could tell that it was much larger than its predecessor.
Eventually, the White Knight started down the runway and took off flawlessly, heading straight to the patch of desert on which we stood. White Knight Two looks like jet twins joined at the wing tips, with SpaceShipTwo attached firmly to the underside of the center wing. I took a few pictures as it soared slowly over our heads, and onward into the future.
Then there was the wait. It takes about an hour for White Knight to get to the altitude where it drops the spaceship. While we waited, we wandered around the desert on foot, enjoying the view of the hills, the trains, an old mine, an abandoned RV park, cacti, rocks, and the detritus of man scattered about on the sand. We happened to catch a glimpse of the spaceship when its bright white skin briefly caught the sunlight. It shone like a falling star.
Before long, Spaceship Two was gliding in for a landing. At first I didn’t know what I was looking at, just that it was something I’d never seen before, a compactly beautiful gleaming white vision, with a chase plane following. When I realized it was the spaceship, I dropped the binoculars and grabbed the camera. But alas! the camera suddenly refused to focus on anything airborne and when the space plane flew by the moon, I was unable to take the picture. A local writer Bill Deaver did get the shot and it’s lovely. You can go here to see it. http://www.space.com/20530-spaceshiptwo-virgin-galactic-test-flight.html
But it’s not all about the picture, is it? I thoroughly enjoyed being out on the desert on a beautiful Mojave morning, a lucky witness to space history in the making.
(P.S. If you have $200,000 saved up, consider a trip to the edge of space aboard SpaceShipTwo. It’s sure to be an amazing experience!)