Mike Melvill

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Mike Melvill

The first civilian to fly an aircraft into space and the first private pilot to earn astronaut wings

Mike Melvill is now known the world over as the first civilian to fly an aircraft into space and the first private pilot to earn astronaut wings.

A fearless, veteran test pilot, Melvill made international headlines in June 2004 when he flew SpaceShipOne at Mach 3 beyond the Earth's atmosphere, soaring into space. In what was perhaps the most exciting private aerospace endeavour since Lindbergh's transatlantic flight in 1927, Melvill and designer Burt Rutan demonstrated that space travel is now open to… 

Mike Melvill is now known the world over as the first civilian to fly an aircraft into space and the first private pilot to earn astronaut wings.

A fearless, veteran test pilot, Melvill made international headlines in June 2004 when he flew SpaceShipOne at Mach 3 beyond the Earth's atmosphere, soaring into space. In what was perhaps the most exciting private aerospace endeavour since Lindbergh's transatlantic flight in 1927, Melvill and designer Burt Rutan demonstrated that space travel is now open to private enterprise and within reach of ordinary citizens.

Considered "one of the best pilots in the world" according to Popular Science, Melvill also is the Vice President and General Manager of Scaled Composites, one of the most aggressive aerospace research companies in the world. In fall 2004 Melvill and fellow Scaled Composites pilot Brian Binnie each guided SpaceShipOne into sub-orbit, winning the $10 million X Prize, the international competition established to jump start commercial space travel.

Speaking of his space flights, the 63 year-old Melvill says, It was like nothing I'd ever seen before. You really do get the feeling that you've touched the face of God. Although Melvill has logged over 7,000 hours of flight in more than 130 types of aircraft, a space mission carries unusually high risks.

After a 90 degree roll and a malfunctioning motor, Melvill heroically stabilized SpaceShipOne during his first flight. I was deathly afraid, he admits, having considered aborting the mission miles above Earth. Experiencing weightlessness and admiring the Earth's curvature against the blackness of space, Melvill celebrated by releasing a handful of M&M's, marvelling at the way they bounced off the cockpit and spun like little satellites. He had another white-knuckle ascent on his second trip, fighting to regain control of the craft as it rolled more than two dozen times.

For Melvill, the most frightening part of the flights was the acceleration back into the atmosphere. It felt like a roaring hurricane....the ship was vibrating so badly that I couldn't even read the displays.

Unlike NASA's computer-driven space shuttle, SpaceShipOne was flown entirely by hand and was designed and built for a small fraction of the government's cost for a single shuttle launch.

In his speeches (which include footage of his milestone flights), Melvill recounts the thrilling and sometimes terrifying moments of his historic flights and inspires others to reach for the sky. If you have the determination to pursue your dreams, you can achieve anything. Success comes from a willingness to take risks.

A native of South Africa, Melvill was hired by Scaled Composites in 1978. He was program manager of the Voyager, the first aircraft to circle the world non-stop, without refuelling. He has set national and world records for altitude and speed in various classes of aircraft.

 

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