Exactly 47 years after the Soviet Union sent Sputnik into orbit, the
creatively named SpaceShipOne spacecraft became the first privately
built vehicle to reach space. SpaceShipOne was built by aerospace
designer Burt Rotan and his company Scaled Composites, and it was
funded by billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. While there is
no actual boundary for “outer space,” the commonly accepted starting
line lies at 100 kilometers of altitude, also known as the Kármán line.
SpaceShipOne reached the Kármán line on June 21, 2004.[ 1]
Spaceflight has long been a largely government-led endeavor. The
space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, which
began in the 1950s, is perhaps the clearest illustration of that fact.
On the one hand, the space race was a government affair because it
was an explicitly political affair; our eagerness to prove technological
superiority during the Cold War was in some ways an elaborate and
expensive public relations campaign for democracy—and a successful
one after President John F. Kennedy declared the moon the finish line.
(While the USSR won many small victories during the space race—
Sputnik being the first—the United States landed Apollo 11 on the
moon on July 20, 1969.)[ 2]