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Rocket Boosters to share success

Published by Robin on Sun Oct 17, 2004 12:29 am
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This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press on Friday, October 15, 2004.
By ALLISON GATLIN, Valley Press Staff Writer

MOJAVE – While the SpaceShipOne team claimed the $10 million Ansari X Prize, Mojave-area charities also are reaping benefits from the historic privately funded space program.

The Rocket Boosters, a coalition of nonprofit organizations from Mojave, Boron and California City, secured exclusive rights to sell merchandise using the SpaceShipOne logo, beginning with the stubby spacecraft’s first foray into space on June 21.

Since then, sales of the hats, T-shirts, patches, pins and postcards have soared along with SpaceShipOne’s successes.

Spearheaded by Tonya Rutan, wife of spacecraft designer Burt, the all-volunteer group set up shop at all three spaceflights at the Mojave Airport: the historic June 21 flight and the Sept. 29 and Oct. 4 flights to claim the Ansari X Prize.

Sales at these flights brought in thousands of dollars that will be dispersed among the various charities that took part.

“I’m very, very pleased with our progress,” Rutan said. “We really did well for ourselves. I think we should be very proud.”

The June flight, which drew the largest crowds, also was the organization’s biggest day for sales, bringing in some $76,000.

The two Ansari X Prize flights this fall were somewhat smaller affairs, but the organization still collected approximately $27,000 and $45,000, respectively, in preliminary counts.

In addition to in-person sales at each event, the merchandise has sold all over the world through the organization’s Web site, www.rocketboosters.org.

The online response has been tremendous, organizer Glenda Willie said.

Since the June 21 flight, the Web site has received 2,230 orders, she said, with 1,255 of those just since Sept. 27.

The crush of orders has led to a shortage of some merchandise, especially patches and pins, Willie said, and more have been ordered.

New merchandise is coming to the group’s site, as well, thanks to the requirements of the Ansari X Prize.

The international competition for privately funded, manned space programs required a spacecraft to carry the pilot and the equivalent weight of two passengers on each of the two competition flights. To achieve that mark, SpaceShipOne carried aloft nearly 400 pounds of ballast in the form of various paraphernalia that became space-flown keepsakes.

Packed in the ballast boxes in the rear seats of the spacecraft were items the Rocket Boosters are authenticating and preparing for sale.

Among the space-flown mementos were three toys that will be auctioned to raise money for the Boys & Girls Club of Mojave. In keeping with the space and aviation theme, two “Star Wars” dolls and a pilot Beanie Baby bear were flown and soon will be available for auction, Rutan said.

Details for that auction still are being ironed out, but it likely will take place on the organization’s Web site.

The group’s efforts have received praise from all those involved with the successful flight events that drew tens of thousands of visitors in the pre-dawn hours to the Mojave Airport.

“After the last flight, someone said the Rocket Boosters should run for president,” Rutan told members of the organization gathered for a post-flight celebration and meeting Wednesday night.

“They were astonished with the quality of the merchandise and the dedication of our volunteers, who got up at 2 a.m. and worked all day,” she said.

In addition to manning sales booths, the 110 Rocket Booster volunteers also policed the viewing areas, picking up trash and catering the celebration luncheon at Scaled Composites the day the prize was won.

“Everybody I’ve asked to help has (helped),” Willie said. “I’ve not had one ‘no.’ I’ve had lots of people say, ‘Can I help?’ ”

The organization distributed nearly $20,000 among a dozen civic groups as the first “good faith” payment in August.

Further payments will be made as bills are paid and profits are totaled.


This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press on Friday, October 15, 2004.

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