LOS ANGELES, California - A vibrant suborbital space travel industry, including space hotels, and treks to the Moon and beyond are attainable, but only if governmental regulations don't stifle creativity and breakthroughs in building affordable and safe public spaceliners.
Those are a few of the views Burt Rutan, head of the Mojave, California-based Scaled Composites--and leader of the team that designed, built and flew the milestone making SpaceShipOne, the first privately financed suborbital rocket plane--shared today with attendees of the the 25th International Space Development Conference. The event runs here May 4-7.
Rutan also took the time to fault NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle project--a key element of the space agency's Moon, Mars and beyond strategy--describing it as a taxpayer-funded research that makes absolutely no sense.
Dilemma in the making
Rutan and his Scaled Composites team are now busy at work on a fleet of suborbital spaceliners, as well as two giant carrier planes, under a deal with Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic enterprise.
Rutan said that he remains worried about the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) commercial space transportation regulations, tagging it a dilemma. There remain several sticky, red tape rules that may well cripple experimental research and development of passenger-carrying space planes.
Such rules are inhibiting the prospect that a sustainable suborbital space travel industry can be established, Rutan said.
Harsh words for NASA
While busy trying to make safe suborbital spaceships, Rutan said he has another goal: "I want to go to the Moon in my lifetime."
Rutan had harsh words for NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle program--and the space agency's revisit of the Moon. He likened NASA's efforts to archeology.
"They are forcing the program to be done with technology that we already know works. They are not creating an environment where it is possible to have a breakthrough," Rutan advised. "It doesn't make sense," he said, contending that programs must encourage risks "in order to stumble into breakthroughs."
Although tipping his hat to the technical competence of NASA chief, Mike Griffin, "I wouldn't have his job," Rutan added. The NASA task ahead is trying to fulfill the President Bush space exploration vision ... but given "only pennies to do it."
Safety and affordability are key
Rutan said if he was the NASA Administrator, he would call a major press conference about the agency plans to go back to the Moon.
"I'd go in front of the microphone," Rutan said, "and I'd scream at the top of my lungs, 'this is stupid,' then turn around and head back to the office and go back to work."
"If we copy what we had it won't be affordable enough or safe enough," Rutan said, to foster human space travel beyond low Earth orbit, to the Moon, and outward.
NASA's space shuttle is complex and generically dangerous, Rutan pointed out. Still, not flying the shuttle to the Hubble Space Telescope is symbolic of a larger issue.
"The budget forecast [for NASA] is to go out and spend hundreds of billions of dollar to go to Mars and yet you don't have the courage to go back to the Hubble ... it looks like you got the wrong guys doing it," Rutan concluded.
Leonard David is a Senior Space Writer for SPACE.com and the former editor of Ad Astra, the official magazine of the National Space Society
NOTE:The views of this article are the author's and do not reflect the policies of the National Space Society.
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