Saturday, March 13, 2004
Burt Rutan "Aviation legend and convention-buster Burt Rutan leads the charge among civilians out to claim the point position on manned spaceflight. Will such barnstormers of space supplant NASA?

...To the public at large, Rutan is best known as the creator of Voyager, the willowy plane that hangs in the lobby at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. The propeller-driven aircraft made aviation history in 1986, flying nonstop around the world on a single tank of gas.

To aviation enthusiasts, Rutan is renowned for creating designs that marry lightweight materials with sophisticated ideas. His home-built craft have set new standards for speed, distance, and fuel economy.

Now 60, the crusty engineer with the trademark muttonchops is poised to again seize the public imagination by applying his do-it-yourself approach in a quest for space - one that deliberately excludes NASA. And even as Washington dreams - one year after the loss of Columbia - about moon bases and missions to Mars, some experts maintain that it is private individuals like Rutan who will shape the race for the final frontier.

Bankrolled by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, Rutan plans to send three civilian test pilots in a rocket plane to the threshold of space. By making the subor- bital flight to an altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles) twice within two weeks, Rutan hopes to win the $10 million X Prize, an international contest created by a group of space enthusiasts eight years ago. The idea was modeled after the contest with a $25,000 purse that spurred pioneer aviator Charles Lindbergh to prove in 1927 that it was possible to fly a plane alone across the Atlantic."

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