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The Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum will later this year become the permanent home to SpaceShipOne, the first privately built and operated vehicle to reach space and a milestone toward development of tourism beyond Earth's gravity.
Paul G. Allen, Microsoft co-founder and sole funder of SpaceShipOne, announced plans to donate the spacecraft to the Smithsonian during the National Air and Space Museum's annual Trophy awards ceremony on March 9. Allen, designer Burt Rutan and the SpaceShipOne team were the winners of the 2005 National Air and Space Museum Trophy for Current Achievement.
Plans call for SpaceShipOne to arrive at the museum's flagship building on the National Mall in Washington in late September. It will hang in the museum's central Milestones of Flight gallery between Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis and Chuck Yeager's Bell X-1. Later in the year, the 1903 Wright Flyer—the world's first airplane—will return to its hanging position in the Milestones gallery following the end of its special eye-level display on the building's second floor.
"Today is a day of affirmation," Allen said. "It reminds us that almost anything is possible with a great team and a worthy challenge. But bigger challenges lie ahead—regularly scheduled space tourism and orbital flights of commercial passengers. This means we need more innovation, energy and more milestones to be achieved. But as this museum tells us, the exploration of the high frontier is part of what inspires all of us."
SpaceShipOne is the first privately owned and operated spacecraft to exceed an altitude of 62 miles (100 km) twice within a period of 14 days, a feat that captured the $10 million Ansari X-Prize, designed to encourage development of space tourism.
On Oct. 4, 2004, pilot Brian Binnie took SpaceShipOne 70 miles (112 km) above the Earth. On Sept. 29, pilot Mike Melvill flew the vehicle 64 miles (102 km) above the Earth. SpaceShipOne flew previously on June 21, 2004, with Melvill piloting and exceeding an altitude of 62 miles.
Although equipped with three seats, SpaceShipOne has only been flown solo. To qualify for the Ansari X-Prize, it carried the pilot and the equivalent weight of two passengers. Its design, featuring a bullet-shaped forward fuselage and splayed wings, will be studied for adaptation for larger space tourism vehicles.
In expressing his gratitude for the SpaceShipOne donation, museum director Gen. J.R. "Jack" Dailey said, "Our collection is a celebration of firsts. Paul Allen, Burt Rutan and their team are the kind of visionaries who unlock the mysteries of flight and create new ways for us to explore our world and beyond."
SpaceShipOne will be the fifth Rutan-designed vehicle in the museum's collection. The Mall building's south lobby gallery features Rutan's Voyager aircraft, which in 1986 made the first nonstop, non-refueled flight around the world.
The National Air and Space Museum building on the Mall is located at Sixth Street and Independence Avenue S.W. The museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center—which displays one of Burt Rutan's innovative VariEze kit aircraft—is located in Chantilly, Va., near Washington Dulles International Airport. Both facilities are open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (Closed Dec. 25) Admission is free but there is a $12 fee for parking at the Udvar-Hazy Center.
Shuttle bus service runs between the facilities with a roundtrip ticket costing $12. (Group discounts are available)