Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Mongo or Bust!

The comparison of Burt Rutan's spaceship to Flash Gordon's is an apt one. Flash Gordon first appeared in newspapers in 1934, at the height of what is now called the "Golden Age of Aviation." This was the era of Lindbergh and Earhart. It was the time where powered flight left its infancy and the possibilities of the future seemed limitless. The rickety canvas-covered biplanes of the First World War gave way to the sleek metal-skinned air racers of the 30s. The look of the Flash Gordon comics and serials was a futuristic reflection of this. Flash Gordon rocketed to the planet Mongo in a ship designed by the eccentric Doctor Zarkov. Yesterday, Mike Melvill rocketed to the edge of space in a ship designed by the eccentric Burt Rutan, hopefully ushering in a new "Golden Age."

It also should be noted that whereas many of the pioneers of spaceflight where sometimes nothing more than cargo aboard giant rockets, Melvill piloted his ship into space. SpaceShipOne was not computer controlled nor flying a preset course. Melvill was in control of the ship the whole way up and down. Even the control surfaces of the craft were triggered by simple cables rather than more sophisticated hydraulic systems. Back to the Future indeed...