He'd just guided his 1,900-pound rocket to a successful simulated moon landing, but while his teammates rushed to refuel for a second flight -- their ticket to a $1 million prize and serious bragging rights -- gaming guru John Carmack sat at his keyboard troubleshooting, tapping new adjustments into the rocket's program code.
Carmack, founder of Mesquite-based id Software and the mind behind games like Wolfenstein, Quake and Doom, noticed the rocket, nicknamed "Scorpius," hadn't made any adjustments for gusts of wind on its first flight, and decided he'd need to correct the roll thruster's code before another launch -- a last-second tweak to an intricate program his Armadillo Aerospace team had tested over and over before this.
They'd watched hours slip by waiting out the Saturday morning rain, but now time was suddenly critical. The clock was running while officials from the X Prize Foundation kept the time that competition from across the country would be gunning for. A quarter-mile from Carmack, out in a Caddo Mills airport field, Armadillo's crew prepped for a simulated launch back into lunar orbit, swarming around the rocket in matching blue jumpsuits. When a hose came loose under pressure and snapped back into Russ TK's face, there was only time to slap a strip of duct tape over the gash and keep working.
At his computer, Carmack wrapped up his last-second fix, and with the rocket refueled, it was ready to fly again. More than 50 friends, fans and family members watching from the field shouted as the countdown came over walkie-talkie: "Three ... two ... one ..."
And then, nothing.