Mike Melvill flew SpaceShipOne into space and history on this date in 2004. Melvill piloted the small space plane to an altitude of 100.124 km (62.2 miles) on a flight lasting 24 minutes and 5 seconds. Melvill was the first pilot to fly a privately-built aircraft into space. Thousands gathered at the Mojave Air and Space Port to watch this historic flight. After the flight, Melvill climbed aboard his craft and held up a sign that read, “SpaceShipOne, Government Zero.”
It was the fourth powered flight for the Scaled Composites vehicle, which was funded by billionaire Paul Allen. The space plane would fly two more times, in September and October 2004, to capture the $10 million Ansari X Prize. SpaceShipOne was then retired and shipped to the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Sir Richard Branson and his company, Virgin Galactic, subsequently licensed the technology and hired Scaled Composites to develop a pair of successor vehicles, SpaceShipTwo and its WhitKnightTwo carrier aircraft. Development and testing is ongoing in Mojave.