On October 4th, 2004, the 47th anniversary of the Sputnik launch, a small vehicle named SpaceShipOne accomplished something that had never been done before in human history. It flew into space under its own power for a second time within a period of less than one week. And it did it entirely without government funding.
The product of a collaboration between aerospace engineer Burt Rutan and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, SpaceShipOne was the proof-of-concept vehicle that led directly to the spacecraft that are currently planned to begin commercial flights very soon with Virgin Galactic.
Not satisfied with their accomplishments so far, Rutan and Allen are now teaming up with Elon Musk of SpaceX to develop a spacecraft capable of carrying cargo or passengers into orbit. The partnership is called Stratolaunch Systems. As reported in Wired, the new vehicle will use a carrier aircraft like SpaceShipOne did, but this one will be much larger, with a wingspan of 385 feet, the largest ever. (The current record is the 319 foot wing of the Hughes H-4 Hercules).
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend all three space launches of SpaceShipOne back in 2004, and I hope Stratolaunch succeeds in this new venture.