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Little League in California Participates in Fundraiser of Astronomical Proportions

Burt Rutan signs autographs for Mojave Little League players during a recent visit to the league’s field located in Mojave, Calif. District 51.

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (June 2, 2005) – The Mojave Little League in California District 51 has contributed to the exploration of outer space through participation in a fundraiser that was figuratively and financially out of this world.

Located on the edge of the Mojave Desert, just miles from Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, residents of Mojave (population 3,800) hardly acknowledge the constant stream of military aircraft traffic overhead. That indifference was transformed into euphoria when Space Ship One, the first privately-developed spacecraft, was successfully launched last year.

“We are always looking for fundraisers and this was a unique idea,” said Ted Hodgkinson, Mojave Little League president.

Last year, the roar of rocket engines was coupled with the ringing of cash registers as Mojave Little League’s 172 players benefited from joining with 17 other locally-based organizations to form the Rocket Boosters, a non-profit organization created by Tanya Rutan, the wife of Space Ship One designer, Burt Rutan.

Through the sale of food, beverages, tee shirts, pins and coffee mugs at the testing site and on-line via the internet at rocketboosters.com, the league collected nearly $12,000. The funds raised by the league went toward the purchase of a new scoreboard, a sea crate to be used as storage facility, and new snack bar equipment.

“I had no idea at the first Rocket Boosters meeting that this would be as successful as it was,” said Mr. Hodgkinson, who is a 20-year Little League volunteer and in his second stint as league president. “I was really amazed how the town of Mojave came together, and it became a community event.”

The Rutans, who first gained international recognition by flying the first aircraft around the world without refueling, set their sights on space travel when the X-Prize Foundation instituted the Ansari X-Prize, a $10 million contract for the first privately-developed spacecraft.

Scaled Composites, a subsidiary of Mojave Aerospace led by Mr. Rutan and Paul Allen, developed and eventually launched Space Ship One. Many Mojave Little League volunteers are employed by the company and immediately realized the potential value of involving the league in this project.

“This was such an experience for us that it’s going to take some time to realize what went on,” Mr. Hodgkinson said. “I know that before when we did fundraisers we’d raise a couple of hundred dollars from a car wash, or $1,000 from a candy sale, but this was so exciting it was hard to believe.”

The Space Ship One project was two years in development, and final testing of the vehicle consisted of three flights. The first test of the prototype was launched in June 2004 from the Scales Composites compound at the Mojave Airport, and was followed by tests in September and October.

“At the first Rocket Boosters meeting last May, it was estimated that crowds would be around 20,000,” Mr. Hodgkinson said. “It turned out attendance for the first flight was quite large, around 30,000. There weren’t as many people for the second flight, but the third flight was between 25,000 and 30,000.”

Scaled Composites created a large observation area for visitors, passenger cars and RV parking, and allowed spectators to gather around the airport runway to watch as the White Knight carrier aircraft elevated Space Ship One 50,000 feet before detaching.

Well before the historic flights lifted off, Mojave Little League volunteers were providing services such as picking up trash and making breakfast burritos.

“During the flights it was hard to get any sleep,” Mr. Hodgkinson said. “Most of us didn’t sleep for 24 hours, but we were all really happy about it because we have some great memories.

“The day before the first flight there were nearly 30 of our Little Leaguers providing trash pickup and from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. on the morning of the first flight we sold 1,200 breakfast burritos.”

The non-profit Rocket Boosters sold and estimated $300,000 worth of merchandise, goods, and services during the Space Ship One test flights. Now with the X-Prize awarded and further development of the project in the works, it is expected that future testing exhibitions could provide Mojave Little League the opportunity to conduct similar fundraisers.

“This went so well, I’m sure it will be a fine fundraiser in the future, but I figure that’s a couple of years away,” Mr. Hodgkinson said.

The Mojave Little League was first chartered in 1960 and celebrated its 46th opening day on April 2. The league’s board of directors had hoped to invite the Rutans to opening day festivities, but their busy schedule did not allow it. League officials did recognize the Rutan’s efforts and contributions to Mojave Little League during a visit on May 14, where the league presented the couple with windbreakers and District 51 pins.

Burt Rutan, front left, designer of SpaceShip One, and Mojave Little League President, Ted Hodgkinson, front right, pose with members of the Mojave Little League following a ceremony honoring Mr. Rutan’s contributions to the league. Mr. Rutan, and his company, Scaled Composites, were winners of the X-Prize for successfully building and launching the first privately-funded spacecraft. The Mojave Little League was one of 17 organizations that made up Rocket Boosters, a non-profit organization the provide goods and services to visiting spectators during the testing phase of the SpaceShip One project.