SpaceShipOne the first plane in space

Unlike past space exploration, this new wave includes private and governmental efforts.

On Monday, SpaceShipOne garnered a $10 million dollar prize after spending more than $20 million to get its private aircraft into space three times in the last five months.

Don’t worry about the financial loss for software billionaire Paul Allen, who financed SpaceShipOne. In the long run, this will likely turn him a profit. More importantly, it wasn’t about the money.

After a June test run, SpaceShipOne made two successful flights topping the contest’s required altitude of 62.5 miles above sea level. While pilot Brian Binnie might not have achieved “maximum warp” or broken the speed of light, he catapulted humanity closer to a civilian existence in space.

Binnie also smashed X-15 pilot Joseph Walker’s 41-year-old record for highest altitude reached by an airplane, exceeding Walker’s peak of 67 miles above sea level by 2.6 miles. Along the way, Binnie tripled the speed of sound.

Space travel is full of potential, because, sooner or later, many hope it could lead to a consistent civilian presence in space and, possibly, the discovery of other civilizations. All of this is the stuff science fiction is made of, but it still captivates most people.

Tuesday “most people” included President George W. Bush, who took the time to congratulate Binnie, as well as Mike Melvill, the pilot who flew the prior space shots in June and last week and also flew the carrier plane.

As Bush noted, SpaceShipOne is part of a reinvigorated space-exploration effort. Unlike earlier space exploration, this new wave includes both private and governmental efforts.

Humanity is at a point similar to early exploration of the new world. As the deep sea, space is one of few almost unknown elements in human existence. Considering the vastness of the portions of space we have explored, it is clearly the least understood – the final frontier.

Hopefully, this rededication to exploration can tap the seemingly limitless opportunities the universe offers, while avoiding the mistakes and poor judgment humanity exhibited during our last era its exploration.