Spaceship One, Spaceship Two

According to news this week, for $200K you will be able to fly up into space in a few years, “Entrepreneur Unveils New Tourist Spacecraft”

On October 8, 2006 in San Carlos, CA at the Hillier Aviation Museum, I had the good fortune of listening to Burt Rutan speak about breakthrough innovation, aviation, spaceflight, and aviation safety—totally inspiring. Some of it is very big picture, but here are a few of the highlights,

  • Technical progress and the ability to take big risks has been what sets humans apart from animals
  • Children make the decision to be innovators during the age of 3-14, usually due to some events that occur during that period.
    • Most of the aviation pioneers that people recall (Von Braun, etc.) were growing up during the time when the airplane was invented early 1900. Most aviation since then has used the same basic principles they discovered
  • Next major wave of innovation occurred WWII and after when he was growing up.
  • Third wave was when Sputnik made Americans feel they lost to the Russians, which kick started the space race of 1960s.
  • Since then, we have been using essentially the same space technology for last 30 years.
  • His SpaceShip One is now housed in the Smithsonian right next to the other major plans of the last century
  • Commercial & military airplanes have stagnated in their altitude and speed because the technologies have not been pushed by the organizations that develop them. Space Ship One pushes the envelope by orders of magnitude, representing the next wave of innovation in aviation and space travel. Space Ship Two will be for commercial travel—Virgin airlines may be accepting orders for the first flights.
  • Safety and stability have been the barriers to entry in commercial space flight—that’s what he’s out to change. One of his first jobs out of college was to understand why the F4 had so many failed flights and engineer a stability control system.

Below is a photo of him telling me what he thinks about the Columbia accident report: “if you read it carefully, what they are saying is not to take risks. NASA as an organization will never take risks.” Also asked him what he thinks is the difference between his small 130 person company and NASA is. He replied that he never puts his engineers and factory personnel in the position of defending safety, i.e. never to be in a defensive position, or allow an aviation regulator do that to them.

  • I read this to mean this places full responsibility in the people doing the work to ensure safety.
  • Safety has to be so obvious to the people doing the work that there is never a need to be defensive—they understand exactly why their aircraft is safe.
  • My interpretation is that this nurtures a culture which outperforms regulated safety—he claims he has built some 40 research aircraft with an excellent safety record he claims

Also see, Larry Page on how to change the world: Breakthrough ideas are around the corner, says the Google co-founder.  But most of us are failing to take a chance on them.”

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