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August 13, 2006

other tech: Burt Rutan interview

Burt Rutan has a goal of getting to the moon. The suborbital and orbital ships he is building are smaller fundable steps to get there

His hunch is that by profitably flying people by the tens of thousands, the funding pump will be primed, and the recognition fostered that breakthroughs are needed for a high-risk orbital spaceship research program.

“I’m getting a commercial system going for one reason: I don’t think anybody else will,” Rutan explained. “I think it’s really important for me to build a lot of them,” he added, not just a few for Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, “but a lot of them.”

Taking a long look out to the next ten to twelve years, Rutan predicted that “there’s going to be some very good news and some very bad news.”

The bad news, Rutan advised, is related to the government space programs. “I hate to say that, but the reason is that they are just structured so there will be a lot of money spent and they are not likely to reap the benefits that are going to help us.”

The good news, Rutan suggested as a guess, is that there will be breakthroughs forthcoming, stemming from what happens after the first generation of suborbital craft—including competitors, now known and unknown—take to the sky.

“We need what amounts to natural selection to work. Nobody is smart enough to know ahead of time whether something is the right answer. You’ve got to field the good ones and bad ones for the good ones to float to the top,” Rutan said.

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