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First Private Manned Spaceflight Takes Off - 2004-06-21


A rocket plane called SpaceShipOne has lifted off with the goal of making the world's first privately-funded manned spaceflight.

The plane was attached to a larger aircraft that took off from a runway in California's Mojave Desert a short time ago.

The plane will be carried to an altitude of about 15 kilometers. From there, its own rocket engines will propel the spacecraft to 100 kilometers, into sub-orbital space.

The pilot, 62-year-old Michael Melvill, will then steer the craft into a 15- to 20-minute glide back to a desert landing.

SpaceShipOne's builder, aerospace designer Burt Rutan, says the project reflects the "enormous pent-up hunger to fly in space." He says he expects affordable human space flights to become a reality in coming years.

The SpaceShipOne project was financed by Paul Allen, a founder of Microsoft Corporation.

Information for this report is provided by AP and AFP.

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