Headlines > News > Time\'s Invention of the year: SpaceShipOne

Time\'s Invention of the year: SpaceShipOne

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Tue Nov 30, 2004 6:19 pm
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The Sky’s the Limit
Ingenious design. Entrepreneurial moxie. A world-changing vision of the future. The amazing SpaceShipOne has it all

When the first American flew into space in 1961, Burt Rutan was a 17-year-old college freshman. Listening to news of Alan Shepard’s groundbreaking suborbital flight on the radio, Rutan was euphoric. He too hoped to go into space one day—and was disappointed that a cautious NASA had allowed the Soviets to beat the U.S. to the prize. “We could have had the first man in space,” Rutan recalls, “and we sent a monkey instead.”

The possibilities back then seemed limitless, and it was easy for Rutan’s generation to imagine they would all get to taste zero-gravity one day. It didn’t work out that way. After NASA reached the moon in 1969, its focus shifted to unmanned probes, orbital experiments and a costly low-orbit shuttle system. The imagined future of Everyman as astronaut evaporated. This year, more than four decades after Shepard’s flight, only two Americans have made the jump into space from U.S. soil—both launched not by NASA but by Rutan’s tiny company, known for build-your-own-airplane kits.

Rutan personally designed their craft, SpaceShipOne, a vehicle as improbable as it is revolutionary…

Continued…

BY CHRIS TAYLOR
PHOTOGRAPH BY STEPHEN WILKES FOR TIME

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