About that letter from Burt Rutan

February 26, 2010
NewSpace Watch
February 26, 2010

A visitor pointed me to an online copy of Burt Rutan’s famous letter, which the Wall Street Journal reported on the other day: forum.nasaspaceflight.com/…

At first reading it’s easy to see how it could be interpreted as an attack on commercial crew launch services in general. On second reading, however, it is clear that is not what he is doing. He’s saying that getting to LEO is no big deal (“little more […] than NASA accomplished in 3.5 years with Gemini in the mid 1960s”) but going “beyond low earth orbit” is hard and the commercial guys could fail at that.

As I pointed out in my previous item about this, Burt said a couple of weeks ago that he had no problem seeing Ares/Orion “disappear”. His concern is that NASA has been doing development projects like those rather than focusing on leading edge technology research and exploration in deep space. In the current letter, he again is emphasizing that commercial should do “Development programs” in manned spaceflight while “NASA flies risky new ideas”.

I certainly agree with all that and the NASA budget as I understand it does in fact support commercial launchers only for LEO access and redirects NASA towards technology research and deep space exploration.

Update: Rob Coppinger has posted a statement from Burt in which he confirms that the WSJ article misquoted him and that he does in fact believe that it is “a good idea indeed for the commercial community to compete to re-supply the ISS and to bring about space access for the public to enjoy”. However, he does believe that NASA must lead the way to deep space, particularly by testing “new concepts needed to enable
forefront Exploration beyond the moon”: Burt Rutan sets the record straight – Hyperbola.

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