Wed, Jun 23, 2004
Rutan: Space Tourism Still A Long Way Off
When SpaceShipOne officially broke into space Monday, television
news announcers giddily told us they were already in line to become
some of the first private space tourists. But the man who designed
that historic spacecraft says, don't pack just yet. For the vast
majority of us, space will still be a long time coming.
To make commercial passenger flights into space economically
viable, Rutan says each flight will have to accommodate at least
six passengers. "It makes an enormous difference to fly six or 10
people," he says. "Because whether you're flying six or 10 people,
you're flying the same avionics, you're flying one pilot, you're
flying the same checkout, preflight and post-flight, and those are
the expensive things."
In an interview with KFMB TV, Bill Sprague, the team leader of
American Astronautics Corp., agrees. But he might challenge Rutan's
timing. Sprague's company is a contestant in the Ansari X-Prize
competition, with a seven-place spacecraft it hopes to flight test
by the end of September.
"Our intention is to enter the market as a commercial space
enterprise. We're out to win an industry, not a prize," he says, a
sort of left-handed bow to the Scaled Composites team.
But Sprague, Rutan and others who hope to make a commercial go
of space tourism still have a lot of work to do, says Rutan. To
attract paying customers, spacecraft will need bigger windows and
will have to fly much higher -- high enough so that Uncle Vern and
Aunt June can get out of their harnesses and float around a
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