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Monday, June 14, 2004
New York Times: Private Space Travel? Dreamers Hope a Catalyst Will Rise From the Mojave Desert
One week from today, from a runway in a barren reach of the Mojave Desert 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, Burt Rutan will try sending a pilot higher than anyone has ever flown in a private plane.
A longtime designer of innovative aircraft, he plans to shoot his creation, a rocket called SpaceShipOne, 62 miles above the earth. If the flight is successful, Mr. Rutan and his sponsor, Paul G. Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, say it will usher in an age of privately financed space travel and even spacefaring laboratories and manufacturing plants, at down-to-earth prices.
The flight would also be a milestone on the way to winning the Ansari X Prize, a competition begun by a group of entrepreneurs and space enthusiasts in 1996 in hopes of spurring a private space race. Modeled on the $25,000 Orteig Prize, which inspired Charles Lindbergh's 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic, the $10 million X prize has spurred the efforts of more than two dozen teams worldwide, some of them financed by patrons like Mr. Allen and John Carmack, a founder of Id Software.
To win the X Prize, SpaceShipOne will have to travel 62 miles up twice in two weeks with three people aboard; Mr. Rutan said those flights would be tried at a later date. In May, SpaceShipOne reached an altitude of 40 miles.
Mr. Rutan is not shy about the adventure. He has invited the public to join him in the desert to watch. History, he says, is in the making.
"We encourage people to come out and bring their children, so their children can tell their children that they were there," he said.
Mr. Allen, 51, says he has spent more than $20 million to fulfill fantasies that were fueled by science fiction and the real-life space program. "As a child, I read everything I could about space travel," he said. In 1981, he attended the first shuttle launching, that of the Columbia. Read More
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