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Surprising Science

Burt Rutan: Aesthete & Visionary Space Maverick

Perhaps the world’s most fiercely original aerospace engineer, Rutan has pioneered beautifully designed aircraft that (successfully) go against the grain of conventional wisdom. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Aerospace engineer Burt Rutan is one of the biggest proponents of private space travel and also one of the industry’s most visionary leaders. Rutan is the singular designer behind SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million Ansari X prize for completing the first manned private space flight; SpaceShipTwo, which Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic will use to take the world’s space tourists to the brink of the final frontier; and StratoLaunch, which is slated to become the world’s largest aircraft and be capable of carrying a rocket high into the Earth’s atmosphere before launching it into outer space.

What’s the Big Idea?

In his persistent desire to further explore space, Rutan understands that today’s new technology can broaden tomorrow’s horizons in unexpected and exponential ways. He compares private space flight to the development of the personal computer: “We didn’t know the importance of home computers before the internet. We had them mostly for fun, then the internet came along and was enabled by all the PCs out there.” Similarly, today’s commercial space flights, which rely on NASA contracts or wealthy patrons of space tourism, may yield advances which are unimaginable today. 

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


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