Burt Rutan talks about the future of space flight during a forum
The space program was taking off when
Burt Rutan was a child, and that's all it took for his interest to take
Decades later, with private companies
taking the lead in transporting civilians to space, Rutan hopes the
interest of today's children will, once again, blast off.
Rutan presented "Commercial Space:
Our Future Opportunities" during a packed forum Thursday. He said
opportunities are available in the growing private space industry.
"How many of you have bought tickets
to fly outside the atmosphere?" Rutan asked the group. No hands
"We're on the road to develop a
system that I expect will have a lot of volume," he said. "If
I come back 10 years from now, I predict that I will get at least 100 of
you in this audience to raise your hand. That's an enormous thing to
expect, but I want to go to a resort hotel in orbit sometime in my
lifetime. We're doing what we can do this year to help that
In fact, Scaled Composites has been
growing rapidly, with the company tripling its size during the
recession. "But we need more people to build spaceships in the shop
and more engineers," Rutan said. "We will need to increase the
size of our company 15 to 20 percent this year."
Technology goes through cycles, as
products build and then fade when new ones replace the old, Rutan said.
"It doesn't build at all if it is developed and used by the
government," he said. "But once it is handed off to the
private sector, something very different happens."
Not only will the demand grow, but the
price will also come down, Rutan predicted, and you attract new
investors who realize the potential the industry holds.
To predict the future, you first need to
understand the history of space exploration. It began, in earnest, about
50 years ago when the U.S. government was in a race with the USSR, he
"America accelerated its efforts to
do good things in space and to regain its national prestige," Rutan
said. "The world was looking at our adversary as being
technologically better than us. And in those days that meant something
to Americans, and it meant a lot to American leadership."
The United States succeeded in its
efforts. It developed five different launch systems in seven years. The
United States made nine missions to the moon, six that landed on the
"We took enormous risks," Rutan
said. "But somewhere along the line, risks became unacceptable, and
that stifled ingenuity."
More recently, the government canceled
Orion/Ares, a move that Rutan supports. "The biggest problem I had
with it is that it used steel-case solid rockets off the shuttle,"
he said. "This whole program was developed and designed and laid
out specifically…without learning anything new.
"When we went to the moon the first
time, we learned a lot of new stuff," Rutan said. "If we're
spending money to develop a shuttle, we ought to learn something to help
us get to Mars."
Rutan said NASA should give 10 to 15
percent of its budget to new space companies like Elon Musk's SpaceX
without regulating how to spend the money. "That would allow them
to not (have to) beg for commercial investment, while still working in
an entrepreneurial mode."