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But after reaching sub-orbital space, Mr Melvill regained control and piloted the ship safely back to Earth.
SpaceShipOne was carried high into the air anchored beneath the twin-engine White Knight craft.
The two craft separated at around 50,000ft and the space ship rocketed into space. It was the second time that SpaceShipOne – the inspiration behind Richard Branson’s dream of commercial space travel – has reached sub-orbital space.
If the privately-funded craft can repeat the mission within two weeks, the creators, led by aviation legend pioneer Burt Rutan, will collect the €8m Ansari X-Prize. The prize was established in 1996 to encourage commercial space flight.
Supporters of the X-Prize include Dennis Tito, the American businessman who spent more than €16m to fly in a Russian craft as the first space tourist.
Other backers are pilot Erik Lindbergh, the grandson of Charles Lindbergh, former astronaut and US senator John Glenn, and film star Tom Hanks.
Earlier this week, Branson announced that he was teaming up with Mr Rutan with the aim of providing space tourism by 2007-8.
The Virgin Galactic plan is to shoot passengers up to 62 miles above the Earth in a two to three hour journey that would include roughly four minutes of weightlessness.
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