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Out of the Blue
The Virgin Atlantic Airways GlobalFlyer aircraft, piloted by Steve Fossett, arrived at the Kennedy Space Center Shuttle Landing Facility on Jan. 12 to begin preparations for an attempt to set a new world record for the longest flight made by any aircraft.

GlobalFlyer aircraft glides above Kennedy Space Center. Image at Left: The Virgin Atlantic Airways GlobalFlyer aircraft sails across the clear blue Florida sky near NASA Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility. Image credit: NASA

An exact takeoff date for the flight has not been determined and is contingent on weather and jet-stream conditions, making it possible anytime until the end of February.

NASA agreed to let Virgin Atlantic Airways use the Shuttle Landing Facility as a takeoff site as part of a pilot program to expand runway access for non-NASA activities.

After the 38-foot-long, 114-foot-wide aircraft touched down at the landing strip, Jim Ball, Kennedy's spaceport development manager for the Center Operations directorate, praised the non-NASA use of the runway.

"We put an invitation out to the world, including the commercial sector and other potential users of this wonderful Shuttle Landing Facility, because we had an idea there would this type of capacity available," Ball said.

"There was today, and we anticipate there being more uses in the future. We are very grateful that Steve Fossett and his team at Scale Composites, with Virgin Atlantic as his sponsor, took us up on this request for interest and decided to come here to do something that is right in line with the kind of business we do, which is the hosting of and demonstration of new technology."

Ball said designers at Scale Composites have been able to improve aviation in ways that advance the frontiers of technology, just as NASA continues to do.

Steve Fossett is greeted by  Center Director Jim Kennedy and Jim Ball at the Shuttle Landing Facility. Image at Right: After landing the Virgin Atlantic Airways GlobalFlyer aircraft at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility, pilot Steve Fossett is welcomed (left to right) by KSC Spaceport Development Manager Jim Ball, Center Director James Kennedy and Executive Director of Florida Space Authority Winston Scott. Image credit: NASA

Following the marathon flight, Fossett will attempt to land the GlobalFlyer at Kent International Airport, near London. In doing so, he will cover 26,084 miles in approximately 80 hours.

Fossett said he's excited about flying from Kennedy because the center is where the great events in aviation and space begin. He wants to have that association, as well. "I really like our association with NASA and the Kennedy Space Center," Fossett said. "I'm very flattered NASA has invited me for what is an adventurous airplane project, and I hope to live up to their expectations for a great flight." GlobalFlyer must take off before the end of February because cooler temperatures are needed to get the airplane off the ground, even with the 15,000-foot runway.

"For me, it's a challenge," Fossett said. "I want to do something that hasn't been done before, or at least to do it farther than anyone has done before."

Center Director Jim Kennedy also welcomed Fossett. "What an honor it is to be a part of the Kennedy Space Center family and to have you come be a part of it," he said. "It's a privilege and an honor to have you here. This is an exciting time at the Kennedy Space Center." If Fossett could fly the GlobalFlyer aircraft at the velocity of NASA's upcoming New Horizons mission, "his entire mission would be complete in 43 minutes," Kennedy said.

"Maybe sometime during your 80 hours you might think about that and wish you were going that fast," Kennedy joked with Fossett. "Godspeed on your mission."

The use of the runway is part of NASA's efforts to support the President's Management Agenda and the U.S. Space Transportation Policy.

Jeff Stuckey
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center