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Burt Rutan : The Race for Space

CrazyEngineers exclusive interview with Mr. Burt Rutan of Aircraft Designer as a part of Founders Circuit initiative
CrazyEngineers
CrazyEngineers Staff · 31 Mar 2008
Founders Circuit Team
"Testing leads to failure, and failure leads to understanding."
- Mr. Burt Rutan, Aircraft Designer

Did you ever dream of defying the laws of gravity & flying high? Did you ever dream of experience the 'zero g'? Did you ever dream of going into the space?
We bet you did!

We are honored to have Mr. Burt Rutan - who turned that dream into reality! The legendary aircraft designer, winner of Ansari X Prize, the man behind Space Ship One, Space Ship Two & The Challenger on CE to answer your questions!

CE: Sir, you are an entrepreneur, the most creative aircraft designer, you’ve been called ‘a national treasure’, your achievements in aerospace advancements have been called ‘monumental’, you won the Ansari X prize, your spaceships are going to change the world – how do you feel?

Burt Rutan: Honored, of course by the recognition and awards. We are working very hard now on systems that will fly large numbers of the public outside the atmosphere.

CE: Sir, in your talk at TED, you said that we are entering the second generation of ‘No Progress’ in terms of human flight in space. While we have so many problems on the Earth to deal with, why should we be bothered to go into the space?

Burt Rutan: For the same reason that our species has always taken the courage to leave our home territory to see what might be beyond our current reach. Had we not done that at all we would still resemble apes, and likely would have become extinct. It was important for us to leave that hot/humid area of Africa for our survival. Your question is silly….the fact that we moved to populate the entire earth, and thereby learned and invented new capabilities, is what SOLVED the problems we had when confined.

CE: Could you tell us about the technical challenge that you faced while designing SpaceShipOne?

Burt Rutan: Check out the 3-hours of Discovery Documentary called “Black Sky”. It doesn’t cover everything but does a lot more than I can do by typing an answer for you. Also, Google-news search for news stories that started at our rollout in April 2003 and went all the way to the hanging of ss1 next to the Spirit of St Louis in the National Air & Space Museum.

CE: Sir, how are you ensuring that SpaceShipTwo is safe for flying in space? There are no second chances if something goes wrong. No one would like to become a part of the space forever. 

Burt Rutan: First, with ss2 many things can go horribly wrong and the crew can still survive. We do not go to orbit, so you will not be stuck in space for long.

CE: The SpaceShipTwo is all set to give us the extra ‘g’s, zero ‘g’s, beautiful views of the earth from the space. How would you describe the experience?

Burt Rutan: Ask an astronaut, like Mike Melvill or Brian Binnie. They have described “life changing” experience, but I have not been there yet.

CE: How is your ‘feathered reentry’ system different from the traditional atmospheric entries systems? It looks like Crazy Engineers at Scaled Composites have achieved something that NASA could not achieve in decades.

Burt Rutan: It allows entry into the atmospheric at any flight path angle, including straight down. It also allows entry at any attitude. It is for sub-orbital ops only, it may not work for orbit. The x-15 had a small range of flight path angles and attitudes that were survivable.

CE : Sir, I watched the documentary "Black Sky: The Race for Space". In that you said something I will never forget, "Research should be defined as doing something where half of the people think its impossible and the other half who think, hmm, maybe it will work" and " ... so a true creative researcher has to have confidence in Nonsense! " . For most of my engineering days, I have lived off this thought, but it is not easy. Can you tell us, how do you overcome the negativity, destructive criticism, and de-motivation you would receive throughout, still move on, and finish the projects?

Burt Rutan: Oh, I suppose that for most of my aircraft I acted like a dictator.

CE: Sir, I want to be like you! I want to be innovative & change the world like you did. So far, I have been an average person with average academic record. Whenever I try to get wild in my imagination to get new ideas, I fall asleep. However, I am not giving up. Please tell me, from where do you get your ideas? What can I do to get new ideas?

Burt Rutan: I do not know. Usually the best ideas come when I am traveling, rather than in an office environment. They also come early in the day, like in the shower.

CE: Sir, we thank you for sparing your time for us. What is your message to all CEans?

Burt Rutan: If you have an Idea you know is good…….go for it and do not let people or $ stand in the way. There is always a way to get it done.