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It Was Our Day

"A sign handed from the crowd to pilot � now astronaut � Mike Melvill summed the mood best: "SpaceShipOne � Government Zero!" No flags atop those footprints, but pride in the power of private dreams and personal achievement."
The Spacefaring Web 4.03
by John Carter McKnight
Mojave CA (SPX) Jun 22, 2004
Monday's launch of SpaceShipOne was more than a day like Kitty Hawk, when history was made on a deserted hilltop, more than a day like Alan Shepard's flight, when a nation watched its government's belated entry into a great-power race. It was a day that dreamers made, and shared, a day when eternal dreams of going out into the black came so much closer to coming true.

Late Monday morning, one man stood in triumph atop a rocket plane We all stood with him. It was our day.

I had the unique privilege of reporting live for The Space Show, from cell phone to streaming audio over the internet. Unlike my fellow space advocates and space journalists, I covered the day from standing room, not from the green room. Space advocacy looks a lot different from the searing tarmac than from the buffet tables of connected insiders. It was a good day to be among the crowd.

It wasn't like other space events. That crowd on the tarmac was a rare gathering of the passionate and committed in the absence of hype, unmediated by corporate-entertainment hoopla or the civil pomp of a state event.

What I saw, and what I heard from the dozens of people who shared their day with me, was not the giddy grand passion of a PlanetFest, not the policy wonkage of an industry conference, not the whimsy of a fan convention, but a rugged, enduring devotion to the progress of humanity into space.

One man spoke of having been at STS 1's landing nearly 25 years ago. President Reagan was there. When the sonic boom of the incoming orbiter broke over the field, all the local radio stations began playing "The Star Spangled Banner."

This day, when we heard that returning boom, only our own cheering replied. Nothing was prepackaged for us, nobody was there to tell us what it all should mean. It was ours to watch, and to share in, our own meanings to make from what we saw.

There was no corporate sponsorship, no logos or billboards. The only governmental presence visible was the Sheriff's Department, and a handful of Air Force cadets in the crowd. No media satellite uplink trucks bothered to come out to the people. The Space Show may have been the only forum in the world for live takeoff-to-victory-rollout coverage.

SpaceShipOne, and the crowd that came, was the story that major media neglected. But not for lack of interest. The Space Show kept adding mirror site after mirror site, repeatedly crashing Live365's servers as more people found us and tuned in. From Australia, from the UK, from the Netherlands, people joined us to share the day, to share their dreams with us.

People spoke of grandparents who had been aviation pioneers, infants whom they hoped would carry on a legacy of exploration, their own dreams of going and their pride in the independence of Scaled Composites' efforts.

One European listener emailed to say that we Americans were failing to appreciate our own genius, missing the value and importance of what we, our culture and our way of life, were bringing to humanity. Across the world, people found us and shared the triumph of a small and dedicated team. As CNN and Fox News cut away, those who cared searched, and found us.

It wasn't the government's story. It wasn't corporate media's story. It was ours, the people's, ours in a way that few events can be any more: a near-spontaneous gathering of people with a common passion. We found it on our own, and we made it ours.

A sign handed from the crowd to pilot � now astronaut � Mike Melvill summed the mood best: "SpaceShipOne � Government Zero!" No flags atop those footprints, but pride in the power of private dreams and personal achievement.

We came to the desert before dawn on a weekday morning, thousands of us. We took the time from our jobs. We drove from Los Angeles and San Francisco and Phoenix. We chose to bear witness, and in some small way to take part, to acknowledge with our own actions the power of what SpaceShipOne was to achieve.

We came to celebrate the efforts of a handful of people who, in making their own dreams of space a reality, may have opened the door for us all. We came, together, to stand for those dreams, to see them come true, those dreams shared by Paul Allen and Burt Rutan and Mike Manvill, shared by thousands on the tarmac and countless more around the world.

We dreamed the universe was ours to explore. We dreamed the joy expressed so powerfully by Mike Manvill, seeing the earth beneath him and the universe above. We dreamed infinity.

It was the day one of us opened the heavens for us all.

It was our day.

The Spacefaring Web is � 2004 by John Carter McKnight, an Advocate of the Space Frontier Foundation Views expressed herein are strictly the author's and do not necessarily represent Foundation policy. Contact the author at [email protected]

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