Ten years ago this week, commercial spaceflight took off when a private spaceflight company won the Ansari X Prize: a space competition that was offering a $10 million reward to any non-government organization that could create and fly a reusable manned spacecraft. The rules of the game were simple: design and build a vehicle, then pilot it to the edge of space—100 kilometers up—twice within two weeks.
Twenty-six international teams participated in the competition, but the $10 million prize ultimately went to the Mojave-based Tier One project, created by aerospace engineer Burt Rutan and funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Tier One made two successful flights of its vehicle SpaceShipOne—the first on September 29, 2004 and the winning run on October 4. The win was a considerable victory, both for Rutan and for private spaceflight in general, demonstrating to hopeful visionaries everywhere that space travel was attainable outside of the government sector. In November 2004, a month after the competition was over, Popular Science ran the following profile of the Tier One team.