Manchester's space effort is launched

A FORMER toothpaste technician said he believed his team was on course to blast a human being into space after the launch of a 14ft rocket called The Tempest.

Steve Bennett was speaking yesterday after the successful lift-off near the coast of Merseyside of his latest craft. Blustery winds threatened to disrupt take-off at the Altcar Military Range, north of Liverpool,but at 10.17am the 50lb rocket roared into the skies.

It took about 18 seconds to reach an altitude of 3,000ft before landing safely by parachute 12 seconds later on the beach by the side of the River Mersey. After the successful launch Mr Bennett, 34 year old Salford University lecturer from Dukinfield, Greater Manchester, said: "I'm on top of the world. My space dream is no longer pie-in-the-sky.

"I have dreamt about moments like this for all my life and this is what keeps me going through all the difficult times."

His wife, Adrienne, said the team now had its sights on the $10m (pounds 6.25m) prize on offer from the X Prize Foundation in St Louis, Missouri. She believes Mr Bennett's team could be the first non-governmental body to launch a person 60 miles into space and said she was sure her husband would want to be in the driving seat.

"He's not the nutter people make him out to be," said Mrs Bennett. "The team is looking at the year 2003. We will have to see who goes up but I suppose it is his ultimate dream."

The success of The Tempest was a far cry from the team's escapades less than 12 months ago when their Starchaser 3 rocket crashed and exploded in a mass of flames on a Dartmoor military range.

Lessons were learnt from last year's disaster with qualified first aiders and firefighters on stand-by.

Although a replacement for his doomed creation is almost ready to fly, Mr Bennett's aim was to find a suitable launch site and landing area for high-altitude research rockets.

The craft, made of advanced composite materials and filled with three computers and two parachutes, accelerated to 700mph in five seconds.

The assault on the skies cost the team pounds 4,600 with an insurance premium of pounds 600 producing cover of up to pounds 1m.

Mr Bennett is looking for suitable sites for the launch of Starchaser 3a, which he hopes to launch later this year.