And nothing demonstrates how crowded it is better than the fact that I spent an hour in a traffic jam in the middle of the Mojave desert. It's the DESERT. It should be the middle of NOWHERE and be EMPTY (the problem, of course, is that it's smack between LA and Vegas, and a lot of people make it a weekend trip).
But I made it to Barstow yesterday, and Mojave this morning, with time to spare, even if the spare time came out of my sleep. My somewhat arbitrary estimate is that there were 5000-10000 people present, based on my parking pass number, the size of the RV lot, and other fudge factors. Unexpectedly, I ran into thomb's group (having spotted his Dogwood Moon shirt), and stuck with them for the duration.
Spaceplane launches aren't terribly photogenic, but that wasn't going to stop me, or any of the other gazillion people with cameras:
SpaceShipOne carried by White Knight and followed by the Starship high-altitude chase plane.
This is the best my camera could do of shooting the actual rocket firing. From the vantage point on the ground, the launch was right next to the sun. It was a great moment and the trail moved very fast, but the trail is really all that was visible even with decent binoculars. The folks there with more serious telescopes might have seen more if they could track it well.
SpaceShipOne on the return glide, closely chased by the Extra.
The three chase planes perform a flyover and a little bit of aerobatics in celebration after SpaceShipOne lands.
The pilot on top of the plane, being towed in front of the crowd (which was mostly stretched out six deep along a couple hundred yards of runway). The pickup truck towing it gives a good sense of vehicle scale. A couple of times after White Knight/SS1 and the chase planes had taken off down the runway a ground vehicle would also race down the runway, and there were lots of remarks about wanting to see the fire truck or whatever also take off into the air (think of the RV in Spaceballs).
I thought this was a somewhat misleading way of stating "No government funding involved", but it proved very popular with the crowd. Also, the picture demonstrates that my camera and binoculars can work well together.
Not quite as mercilessly entrepreneurial as the random guy selling binoculars, but a bit of a reminder about commercialization (the "Rocket Booster" t-shirts are cute, though).