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Space Travel Pioneer Rutan Honored

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Maverick aerospace engineer Burt Rutan won the $10 million X Prize last year for launching the first reusable private spacecraft, SpaceShipOne. He now has added another prize to his shelf, the prestigious Wernher von Braun Award from the National Space Society. Yesterday in Washington, Burt Rutan used the opportunity to call for making space travel more fun. NPR's David Malakoff reports.

DAVID MALAKOFF reporting:

Rutan says the American public is losing interest in NASA's manned space program because, well, it's grown stale and there's not much in it for most people.

Mr. BURT RUTAN (X Prize Winner): You don't inspire kids to dream and plan to fly in space by sending them lectures by old gray-haired astronauts who say how neat it was to go to the moon in the '60s. You inspire them by building the systems and developing the capabilities so that kids know they can fly.

MALAKOFF: Rutan says his own contribution to inspiring the next generation of rocket scientists will be to keep working on innovative, reusable spaceships that could one day carry thousands of tourists into space safely.

Mr. RUTAN: The big reason that we, the public, can't fly is it is too dangerous to fly in space. Four percent of the people that have left the atmosphere have died in space accidents. It is too dangerous for public consumption.

MALAKOFF: Many experts doubt that space tourism can ever be safe or practical, but Rutan has little patience for skeptics who say he shouldn't waste his time on such frivolity.

Mr. RUTAN: Those that say that what I'm about to do is just for fun, I look them straight in the face and I say, `Yeah, you're right.' I'm not offended. Airplanes started that way, the barnstorming fun. And anything else that's good started that way.

MALAKOFF: Rutan won't say what his next spacecraft will look like. But the public will get a chance to get a good look at his famous SpaceShipOne this August when it moves to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. David Malakoff, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Malakoff
Nicknamed "Scoop" in high school, David Malakoff joined NPR in December of 2004 as the technology and science correspondent for NPR’s science desk. His stories about how science and technology impact people’s daily lives can be heard on all NPR news programs.