Sunday, March 18, 2007

Awesome SpaceShipOne Documentary!

NASM #1 Apollo 11 et al
Black Sky: The Race for Space (The Race for Space and Winning the X-Prize) is a two-DVD set from the Discovery Channel. I bought it on sale a couple of months ago but just watched it tonight, and it is a wonderful documentary that takes you behind the scenes in the development and testing of SpaceShipOne by Burt Rutan and his small Scaled Composites team. These are real people - they certainly are brilliant and brave, but they also work hard, support each other, make mistakes, do things by trial and error, have some real close calls, and ultimately triumph. The Right Stuff is alive and well in the Mojave Desert, and in this documentary, you get to witness the birth of the private space industry.

While the nuts and bolts engineering/troubleshooting and the flight video are amazingly engaging, there's also a lot of great emotional stuff here, especially with the pilots and their wives. I also like the fact that the X-Prize winning test pilots are as down to Earth as anyone, let alone a commercial astronaut, could possibly be, and members of my generation to boot (Mike Melvill, born 1941, and Brian Binney, born 1953, the same year as me). You can tell by the sometimes harrowing cockpit video that this is real flying, with a great deal of pilot skill and guts required in spite of Rutan's simple, clever, and effective designs.

This is the kind of engaging story telling that space needs and deserves - you don't have to be a space geek to identify with the characters and enjoy this story. I also understand better now why SpaceShipOne deserves to be hanging in the Smithsonian near the X-1, X-15, and the Spirit of Saint Louis (with Apollo 11 Command Module in my Flickr photo above).

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