Monday, March 05, 2007

Burt Rutan: Tough and Inspiring

I saw a news note about the TED Conference (Technology, Entertainment, Design), which is an amazing multidisciplinary event (I've read about past TED's in Wired magazine and elsewhere - TED2007 takes place this week in Monterey, California). Scanning through the impressive list of videos of past speakers (TEDTalks), there are many I'd like to view, but only one that I took time to watch over lunch: Burt Rutan (October 25, 2006, about 20 minutes). I hope he speaks at ISDC 2007!

Burt is an innovator and a strong believer in progress, which he points out is something NASA has not provided much of in the human spaceflight arena since Apollo. Listening to Burt, it's easy to believe that it doesn't matter so much what NASA does with its likely-to-shrink budgets and its efforts to keep its various constituencies (shuttle contractors, President, scientists, international partners, etc.) happy, because private space is going to take the lead soon anyway! I hope that's true. One interesting point he makes is that while the old NACA supplied wind tunnel services and airfoil designs, and provided various other support to the developing aviation and air transport industries, they never built commercial airplanes or tried to run an airline. They left that to private industry. Maybe that's finally happening with space.

Rutan is an inspiring speaker who makes a lot of sense. Watch the video!

N.B. Or read this brief article by Rutan ("Why Space Needs You") that summarizes the key points made in his talk. Making the point that safe and affordable access to space (starting small with suborbital "joy rides") will lead to other profitable space-based industries and eventually to the settlement of the solar system, he finally says
In 300 years, people who go to other planets will not return. They will stay, raise their families, and provide insurance for the survival of our species.

Humans have done this ever since we left that hot, humid valley of Africa. We are naturally selected for courage and strength, since the timid never leave and the weak die on the way. Our instinct to explore hostile places is what has distinguished us from Earth's other animals, and this trait is not likely to fail us at the top of our atmosphere.

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