We are making fantastic progress on Virgin Galactic's preparations for travel to space. It has been an amazing, at times agonising process to get the space program this far, and as the weeks and months pass we are steadily witnessing more little bits of history.
The team just conducted an extremely significant night rocket motor firing, which has been described by Matt Stinemetze, Scaled Composites' Program Manager for the development and testing of our space vehicles, in the fantastically descriptive piece below. His words show the huge excitement now emanating from the Mojave Desert, as we move closer to breaking the sound barrier and then building up to full spaceflight in the coming months.
This project really means so much to all of the people involved, from the engineers to the future astronauts to supporters around the world who one day dream of going to space. Here are Matt's wonderful words to his team-mates:
"8:00 pm. On the dirt berm north of the test site were far enough from the city and the airport lights that its dark. Its dark enough in fact that overhead millions of stars are visible, but no moon. Yet another surreal late night at work for Scaled. The murmur from the 50 or so people on the berm has subsided and there is an eerie silence as youre inside the last minute. In front of us four large floodlights illuminate the white bug; two red strobes flash on either end. Its just far enough away and just bright enough that you have to squint to make out the details
Kawoomph! Instantly any speaking subsides and if it doesnt, you cant hear it. A large yellow flame has suddenly erupted 50 feet behind the white structure and a deafening roar has filled the night. Simultaneously, a large column of brown dust billows up a mile behind the flame. A smooth, earthy, roar/rumble unlike anything youve heard encompasses you. As the first few seconds tick by the shock wears off and you find yourself wondering what those cars on the bypass must be thinking (Im sure at least a couple folks wandered onto the sound bumpers at the shoulder, heads straining westward wondering what in the world they were seeing).
The scene is so surreal, so overwhelming that you mentally start and stop the count two or three times not remembering where you left off. You squint, strain and then as quickly as it started it whooshes to an abrupt stop. Your eyes flicker, a white blur stains your vision long after its over. Behind you in the far distance, several seconds after the flame subsides, the heavy rumble of the echo across the mountains rattles to a stop. Wahoo!! the hill erupts into jubilation. This isnt sci-fi, and its not the scene from a book. This is your program and it happened on Thursday night February 28th, 2013. The first in a rapid series of final confirmation firings leading up to SpaceShipTwo's first rocket powered flight was completed in dramatic style!"
Image by Bob Morgan, Scaled Composites