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  • Blown Away - SpaceShipTwo aftermath
    Posted by Guy Norris 4:16 AM on Dec 12, 2009

    Steven Spielberg would have been proud of the SpaceShipTwo roll out on Dec 7. It had all the hallmarks of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” – roaring wind, strange lights in the sky and, of course, a spaceship.
    The lights and spaceship were expected, as was the pumping rock music provided by UK disc-jockeys Above & Beyond who blasted out an anthem called “Buzz” which included sound bites from the original Apollo 11 Moon landing tapes. What wasn’t scheduled was the gale force – later hurricane strength winds.
    I can safely say in the 18 years I have covered events at Mojave I have never experienced such strong winds, icy temperatures and snow all the same time. During the ceremony leading up to the roll out itself, the gusts buffeted the elaborate tented buildings set up by Virgin Galactic, and as it creaked and groaned a few cast nervous glances around them. Many of them were the passengers – or astronauts as Virgin calls them – who have paid up to $200,000 each for the privilege of a ride to sub-orbital space in this fantastic looking rocket-powered ship. They needed nerves of steel just to sit in the shaking shack – never mind the Mach 3 plus ride to the edge of space that awaits them.


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    Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger braves the sleet and rain as he meets Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan at Mojave

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    The star of the show - SS2 beneath the WK2 - note the unusual tow-bar required for the twin-boom mothership


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    The 'Governator' speaks - within hours this building would resemble a scene of devastation from Terminator


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    'Enterprise' and Mothership emerge from the dark


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    A close up of the 60-ft long 'Enterprise' (all photos: Guy Norris)

    Darkness fell as the speeches rolled on, the day having been eclipsed early by the ominous snow-filled clouds blowing over the local mountains. Into the dark and the freezing wind we were all sent to witness the arrival of WK2 and, nestled between the twin-boom fuselages of the mothership, the SS2 itself. With a whine of Pratt & Whitney Canada PW308s, the one-of-a-kind profile of WK2 and its burden emerged out of the storm amidst a cacophony of wind, engine noise, rock music and wild cheers from the crowd.
    Coming to a standstill, SS2 was swiftly named VSS Enterprise. Some ‘Hollywood’ special effects champagne bottles were smashed over the nose for the naming ceremony, the broken shards skittering away into the darkness borne upon the wind. After a brief inspection most of the crowd sought what shelter they could inside, and the comfort of an Absolut Vodka cocktail served out of a glass formed from ice. I downed an ‘Orbit’ cocktail and immediately felt a welcome de-icing sensation. 
    What none of us knew at that stage however was that the wind was only getting started. By 6.30pm I was on the road back through the desert, leaving behind me the strangely illuminated island of light in the darkness of Mojave airfield. Less than two hours later the hardy party goers still inside the structures were evacuated as hurricane winds began to tear it apart. Luckily nobody was injured but Virgin has posted some interesting video of the incident. On the same site you’ll also find more clips of the roll out.

    Tags: os99, Virgin, Galactic, SpaceShipTwo, Mojave

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