Young Pilot Seeks More Space
Thirty-year-old Larry Clark, already an accomplished commercial airline pilot and flight instructor, is in line to become one of the world's first private astronauts.
Clark's company, Canadian Arrow, was among more than two dozen teams that competed earlier this year in a $10 million race to send a privately developed spaceship into sub-orbital flight. He is the only American among Canadian Arrow's six-member astronaut corps.
Clark had never even flown on a commercial jet before he left his small hometown in upstate New York 13 years ago, moving to Florida to go to college. His total time in the air, in fact, could be measured in minutes.
Then, at age 17, he had talked his parents into letting him ride on a Cessna introductory flight. Yet he moved to the Sunshine State to learn to be a pilot.
On the flight to Florida, I remember buckling into my seat and they were applying power for takeoff and I thought to myself, 'I hope I like this, this is what I'm doing. This is my career. I hope I'm not scared to death,' Clark said, in an interview with United Press International.
Canadian Arrow was a long-shot for the $10 million Ansari X Prize, lacking the financial resources and design experience of Burt Rutan's Mojave, Calif., company, Scaled Composites, which won the prize last month.
Rutan's backer was Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, who contributed more than $20 million toward the development of SpaceShipOne.
The Canadian Arrow team, in contrast, has raised about $5 million in private and corporate donations.
None of that matters to Clark and the Canadian Arrow team, however. The real prize is the new space race and why it was created in the first place: to demonstrate that ordinary individuals, and not just government and government-backed entities, can build ships and fly people to space. That is something the Canadian Arrow team is very much pursuing.
If I could fly tomorrow or choose to go and chase the investment, I'd probably not fly, Geoff Sheerin, head of Canadian Arrow, told UPI. If we're not working on the (space tourism market) than we may as well pack it up and go home. That's the real prize.
Canadian Arrow is developing a rocket based on the old German V-2 design. Launched from a small barge on the water and landing nearby by parachute, the spaceship is designed to ferry three people to sub-orbital altitude - 62 miles, or 100 kilometers, above Earth.
It is high enough to see the curvature of the globe and vehicles are moving fast enough to negate the tug of Earth's gravity - for a few minutes anyway. Because of the angle of launch, the trip does not last long. Round-trip travel time totals less than 15 minutes.
Even so, apparently more than 15,000 people a year may be making the voyage and generating revenue of more than $700 million, according to an October 2002 space travel market survey by Futron Corp., of Bethesda, Md. Already, one major investor has staked a claim: Richard Branson, of Virgin Group in London, is licensing SpaceShipOne technology for a fleet of commercial sub-orbital passenger ships.
That is welcome news to Clark, who like all Canadian Arrow team members, works on a volunteer basis. Furloughed by Northwest Airlines after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Clark has been earning his wages by flying with Northwest's commuter arm, Airlink.
He would love to get his job back with Northwest Airlines, but he has no intention of giving up Canadian Arrow, either. Ideally he would like to do both.
As a kid, Clark's grand plan was to fly for the Air Force, then become an astronaut for NASA. That was the goal, he said.
Clark found nothing but closed doors at the military. Despite top test scores and rave letters of recommendation, he was told his eyesight was too poor.
As the military got more desperate to take pilots, they started loosening up the eyesight requirements, so I was right there at their door knocking. And each time they loosened it up, my eyes just got a little bit worse. I would never meet the requirement, Clark said.
He had hit a particularly tough time in his life when Canadian Arrow entered the picture. Stymied in his attempts to join the U.S. Air Force, then laid off from what he calls a dream job flying wide-body commercial jets for Northwest Airlines, Clark was back at his parent's home in Pulaski, N.Y., caring for one of his sisters, who was recovering from a car accident.
Between visits to the hospital and driving her to physical therapy, Clark would get on the computer and scour the Internet for job leads. One day he typed in the word astronaut on a Yahoo search page and got a link to the Web site run by the X Prize Foundation in St. Louis.
Clark e-mailed the organization, offering his services as an aviation consultant to one of the teams. I thought that might be a way to get in on a job, he said.
Clark received an e-mail in reply about a team in London, Ontario - fairly close to where he was - that had put out a call for astronauts. He found their phone number, met with the team leaders and was encouraged to apply. Two months later he got a call on his cell phone.
I was at the town dump, Clark said. My friend was in the truck and he brings me the phone and I'm standing there where the trash compactor is. Of all the glorious times to find out. They're like, 'Hey, you're now an astronaut. You're selected ... Where are you? What's that noise?'
Eight years after graduating Florida Tech with a bachelor's degree in aviation management/flight technology, Clark is ready for his next adventure. He does not know where it will lead - he says he would go to Mars in a minute - but one thing is for sure: You won't find him on the couch watching TV.
You get one shot at what you do in life and you can't back up five years and say, 'Oh, I wish I had done this differently,' he said. There are no guarantees, but there is no dress rehearsal either.
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Winging It Takes Aviators To The Edge Of Space
Moffett Field CA (SPX) Nov 09, 2004
On October 4, the first privately-owned, manned craft reached space. The goal now, says Burt Rutan- SpaceShipOne's designer - is to eventually put thousands of people into space. In the weeks after claiming his X-Prize, Rutan gave a public presentation in an airplane hangar, at Moontown, Alabama. His comments echoed a desire to apply biological principles of 'natural selection' to aerospace design. His theme was to encourage experimentation.