After Hours

Geek Trivia: What portion of SpaceShipOne has achieved interplanetary flight?

It is not strictly accurate to say SpaceShipOne has never left Earth's atmosphere. Technically, at least part of the world's first private manned spacecraft has achieved interplanetary flight.

Generally speaking, the now-retired SpaceShipOne has never left the Earth's atmosphere — excepting a sample of the craft's carbon fiber frame, which is a willing passenger on NASA's New Horizons space probe heading towards Pluto.

New Horizons actually has a number of commemorative stowaways — sort of like its own version of the space shuttle's illustrious Official Flight Kit. Besides the SpaceShipOne snippet, New Horizons is ferrying the following items inexorably towards the most famous of all dwarf planets:

  • Two coins, specifically U.S. state quarters for Florida and Maryland, where New Horizons was launched and built, respectively
  • A CD-ROM photo album of the New Horizons project team
  • Two versions of the U.S. flag
  • A 1991 U.S. stamp depicting Pluto with the caption "Not Yet Explored"
  • A CD-ROM with 434,000 names on it, from NASA's Send Your Name To Pluto promotion (I'm not making this up)
  • A portion of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the astronomer credited with discovering Pluto (seriously, I'm NOT making this up)

As for the chunk of SpaceShipOne, the carbon fiber disk was inscribed as thus:

To commemorate its historic role in the advancement of spaceflight, this piece of SpaceShipOne is being flown on another historic spacecraft: New Horizons. New Horizons is Earth's first mission to Pluto, the farthest known planet in our solar system. SpaceShipOne was Earth's first privately funded manned spacecraft. SpaceShipOne flew from the United States of America in 2004.

Thus, at least in some small way, SpaceShipOne got to be a real spaceship after all. That's not just some space-specific splitting of hairs, it's a tantalizing technicality worthy of Geek Trivia.

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About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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