Civilian Space Team Claims Success With Rocket Launch

By The Associated Press

A team of rocketeers led by a Bloomington, Minn., man has claimed success in their goal of launching the first amateur rocket into space, sending a 21-foot rocket an estimated 70 miles above the Nevada desert.

Ky Michaelson, 65, a former Hollywood stuntman, had been working since 1995 to blast an amateur rocket into space, defined as 62 miles above the earth. His first two attempts, in 2000 and 2002, failed. The third time was the charm.

"I just freaked out," Michaelson said of Monday's successful launch. "All those emotions after all those years came out of me. I just couldn't believe it."

This year's model, dubbed the GoFast Rocket, was built in six different states and assembled at the launch site in northwestern Nevada .

About 25 members of the team that built the rocket, Civilian Space eXploration Team, or CSXT, were on hand to watch the launch at 11:12 a.m. Everyone held their breaths as the countdown reached liftoff, he said.

"I was concentrating on watching the motor," Michaelson said. "If the motor blows up, it's all over."

Michaelson said they were still working to recover the rocket on Tuesday, and that its telemetry package should tell them the exact altitude. But he said it reached 4,200 miles an hour in 10 seconds, so the laws of physics would have taken it up about 70 miles.

"Once you hit 4,200 miles an hour, that thing's gone into space," he said

The Federation Aeronautique Internationale in Lausanne, Switzerland, the governing body that certifies international aviation records, doesn't have a specific category of records for such accomplishments, but sometimes establishes one after a precedent is set, said Thierry Montigneaux, assistant to the secretary general. He said he didn't think the FAI had a record of such a previous unmanned amateur rocket flight in its archives.

Michaelson founded CSXT in 1998, bringing together amateur rocketeers including teachers, students and real rocket scientists. In 2000, they launched a rocket that reached 3,205 mph before wind shear snapped off a fin at 45,000 feet. In 2002, they launched a rocket that soared for three seconds before the motor burned through the casing and it exploded.

Other amateur groups are competing to blast though the same door. Last week, a group led by Burt Rutan launched a piloted rocket from a plane that climbed to 211,400 feet, becoming the first privately funded manned vehicle to reach the edge of space.

The launch in the Black Rock Desert was monitored by the Federal Aviation Administration ( news - web sites ).

Donn Walker, a spokesman for the Federal Aviation Administration, noted that many private companies already have launched spacecraft such as those carrying satellites. He said CSXT is essentially engaged in a purely amateur space race but has earned the respect of federal regulators.

"They're very legitimate and they do know what they're doing, absolutely," Walker said.

Michaelson, who has more than 200 movies and TV shows to his credit, has been obsessed with rockets all his life. As a young man, he owned a rocket-propelled motorcycle that led to his nickname "The Rocketman."

Michaelson's 4-year-old son is named Buddy Rocketman Michaelson, and Michaelson says his son calls himself "Rocketman Buddy." He also has a 6-year-old daughter, Miracle.

Now that he's reached his longtime goal, Michaelson says, he plans to return home to Minnesota and spend the summer with his wife, Jodi, and their children. They plan to rent a motor-home and visit Alaska .

"Do some fishing," Michaelson said.


<< all news