Stratolaunch plane could make space tourism affordable
Stratolaunch plane, an enormous aircraft, will be a flying launchpad for space flights. Could this Stratolaunch plane turn extraterrestrial tourism into an everyday affair?
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"When I was growing up, America's space program was the symbol of aspiration," said Allen, who mentioned his love of science fiction and early human spaceflights. "For me, the fascination with space never ended. I never stopped dreaming what might be possible."Skip to next paragraph
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For those attracted to difficult technical challenges, space is the ultimate challenge, Allen said.
"It's also the ultimate adventure. We all grew up devouring science fiction and watching Mercury and Gemini, Apollo and the space shuttle. And now we are able to be involved in moving things to the next level," he said, adding that he admires people like Simonyi who have gone into space to experience it.
Allen is not alone in having such dreams, and the money to gamble on making them come true.
"Space was the inspiration that got people into high-tech ... at least individuals in their 40s and 50s," said Peter Diamandis, who created the space prize Allen won earlier and is a high-tech mogul-turned space business leader himself. "Now they're coming full circle."
Diamandis helped found a company that sends tourists to space for at least $25 million a ride, and seven of the eight rides involved high-tech executives living out their space dreams. One is a former Microsoft colleague of Allen's, Charles Simonyi, who paid at least $20 million apiece for two rides into orbit and attended Allen's Tuesday news conference, saying he wouldn't mind a third flight.
"Space has a draw for humanity," not just high-tech billionaires, Simonyi said, but he acknowledged that most people don't have the cash to take that trip.
Space experts welcome the burst of high-tech interest in a technology that 50 years ago spurred the development of computers.
"Space travel the way we used to do it has a '50s and '60s ring to it," said retired George Washington University space policy professor John Logsdon. "These guys have a vision of revitalizing a sector that makes it 21st century."
But Logsdon said the size of the capsule and rocket going to space seemed kind of small to him, only carrying 13,000 pounds (5,897 kilograms). It didn't seem like a game-changer, he said.
Stratolaunch's air-launch method is already used by an older rocket company, Orbital Sciences Corp., to launch satellites. It's also the same method used by the first plane to break the sound barrier more than 50 years ago.
Stratolaunch, to be based in Huntsville, Alabama, bills its method of getting to space as "any orbit, any time." Rutan will build the carrier aircraft, which will use six 747 engines. The first unmanned test flight is tentatively scheduled for 2016.