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Don\'t tempt fate - Melvill

Published by Rob on Mon Apr 18, 2005 12:35 pm
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18/04/2005 10:45 – (SA) Wolfram Zwecker

Johannesburg – Mike Melvill, the first civilian to travel in outer space, said he decided not to go up in space again, because one shouldn’t tempt fate.

Addressing about 800 people in the Linder Auditorium at the University of the Witwatersrand at the weekend, he said: “From up there, about 100km above the earth, one can see it: merely a thin blue frame around the earth – the atmosphere.

“If we don’t protect it, we will have nothing,” he said, relaying his experiences aboard SpaceShipOne.

Melvill took the audience on a “tour” of the preparations for and actual flight into space.

“Planning and preparation: that is what made the difference. And obviously one’s faith and trust in the design and the belief that it can be done,” he said.

Compared to what Nasa and its space shuttle programme do and the “millions” of dollars it pours into its programme, Composite Technologies in the Mojave Desert in the United States of America – with his partner and colleague Burt Rutan in control – managed to do the same thing on a “pauper’s” budget.

“It is not on the same scale (as Nasa’s), but a flight in the shuttle costs about a $1bn. Our flights cost only $500 000 each.

Melvill was born in Johannesburg and completed his schooling in Durban. Last year he became the first civil astronaut to break through the 100km space barrier.

Tempting fate

“We practiced with several aircraft to get used to changing gravity (G-force) and positions. During the flight, G-forces of up to 5.5 come into play. That is 5.5 times your bodyweight.

“The forces and the atmosphere, which becomes thinner as you ascend, change the handling of the craft within seconds. All this happens while you can barely see anything. You are dependent on a small monitor with flashing numerals.”

He spent the four minutes of “gliding” through space taking photographs, before the craft started falling back into the atmosphere.

To earn the Ansari X prize of $10m (about R62m), which had been put up by a Dallas family in 1996, they had to break through the space barrier twice in two weeks.

His decision not to undertake the second flight was mainly for personal reasons.

“I did not want to put my wife, Sally, through the experience again. I accomplished what I had set out to do.

“I also do not believe that one should tempt fate too often.”

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