"Oopsie" for Rutan - 2 dead

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  1. Tennessee Slim

    Tennessee Slim Señor Member CLM

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    Explosion At Mojave Airport

    POSTED: 3:10 pm PDT July 26, 2007
    UPDATED: 6:29 pm PDT July 26, 2007

    MOJAVE, Calif. -- Two people were killed and four others critically injured Thursday by an explosion at a Mojave Desert airport site used by the pioneering aerospace company that sent the first private manned rocket into space, authorities said.

    Wreckage of equipment and vehicles could be seen in views broadcast by a TV news helicopters over the Mojave Air and Space Port in the high desert north of Los Angeles near Edwards Air Force Base.

    The blast occurred at a facility belonging to Scaled Composites LLC, caused two fatalities and at least four critical injuries, and left some toxic material, said Kern County fire Capt. Doug Johnston.

    KNBC reported that the accident involved tanks of nitrous oxide during a rocket test.

    Scaled Composites is the Mojave-based builder of SpaceShipOne, the first private manned rocket to reach space, and is developing a successor for the new space tourism business Virgin Galactic.

    Aerospace designer Burt Rutan, who heads Scaled, told The Associated Press he had no information and was heading to the scene.

    The blast site was in a remote unpaved area. Scaled uses nitrous oxide as an oxidizer in its rockets, which are tested at the airport. An oxidizer provides the oxygen that rocket fuel needs to burn. Scaled's Web site notes that "temperatures and pressures must be carefully controlled" during oxidizer transfers.

    Aerospace and defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. owns 40 percent of the company and recently agreed to acquire the rest of it. The deal is awaiting regulatory approval and should close next month.

    Northrop Grumman spokesman Dan McClain said the company had no comment on the explosion.

    Mojave airport is where the Rutan-designed Voyager aircraft was built. It made history in 1986 when it achieved the first nonstop flight around the world without refueling.

    In 2004, Rutan's SpaceShipOne, funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, made the first privately financed manned spaceflight by climbing more than 62 miles high on a suborbital journey above Mojave. SpaceShipOne went on to make two more flights to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize.

    Rutan has since been developing SpaceShipTwo for entrepreneur Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, who plans to offer $200,000 rides into space for tourists.

    An ambulance station at the airport responded immediately to the scene, said Mark Corum, a spokesman for Hall Ambulance Service.

    Paramedics reported two people were killed, four were critically injured and one suffered minor injuries, Corum said.

    The injured were airlifted to Kern Medical Center about 45 miles from the airport, he said.

    A call seeking comment from the airport manager was not immediately returned.

    Kern County fire crews and bomb experts were en route to the scene, where there was concern that airport personnel could be exposed to hazardous materials, said sheriff's Deputy Vince Martinez.

    The airport is often crowded with parked airliners that are not in service. Its flight operations often involve unusual aircraft undergoing testing, and civilian test pilots undergo training there.

    Xcor Aerospace, another of the high-profile civilian rocket companies located there, was not involved in the blast, said Rich Pournelle, its director of business development.

    Bill Deaver, publisher of weekly Mojave Desert News, said the airport is an important part of the unincorporated community of about 4,000 people. The airport employs about 1,500 people, he said, and is the country's first inland spaceport certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.

    The airport has been a popular location of movie and television production. Part of "Speed" was filmed at the airport -- a Boeing 707 was blown up in a scene that was supposed to be Los Angeles International Airport.

    Deaver said parts of other several other movies, including "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Waterworld" were filmed there.

    http://www.knbc.com/news/13764132/detail.html?dl=mainclick