Has the privatization of space begun?

The big tech news of the week has to be the first step toward space privatization, with the successful launch of SpaceShipOne on Monday. Pilot Mike Melvill took the craft into a suborbital flight 62 miles above the Earth’s surface, and returned safely, landing at Mojave Airport, which Dan claims is the first certified and now operational civilian space port.
Melvill had the plane in freefall weightlessness for three minutes, releasing, in now-famous video footage, a bag of M&Ms to float around in the cockpit. He landed SpaceShipOne on the same runway it had taken off from, under the launch vehicle White Knight, an hour and a half earlier.
The venture is that of renowned designer Burt Rutan’s Scaled Composites, and was financed by former Microsoftie Paul Allen for a cool $20+ million. The flight marked the highest altitude ever reached by a non-government aerospace venture, and proves what commercial enterprise can do when left alone.
Scaled Composites will now turn its attention to readying SpaceShipOne for another flight, as it pursues the Ansari X Prize, which will award $10 million to the first group to launch a resuable spacecraft with three passengers in to space, return them safely home, then do it again with two weeks. With the same reusable spacecraft.
Scaled Composites’ endeavor underscores some of what is wrong with NASA and the U.S. government’s continued interest in space. The space agency is greatly interested in the SpaceShipOne mission, and is in talks with Rutan and company. There is room for healthy competition and co-opetition in the space race. Our nation has greatly benefited from space missions in the past, and this week’s event could foreshadow greater government cooperation with private enterprise as we look beyond our own atmosphere.