This Month in SMT007 Magazine: Exclusive Interview With Burt Rutan, Aerospace Legend


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If you follow advancements in aerospace technologies and expeditions, then you know the name Burt Rutan. Described by Newsweek as “the man responsible for more innovations in modern aviation than any living engineer,” Rutan is a bold visionary with a passion for the advancement of technology, who has designed 46 aircraft throughout his career.

Rutan designed the legendary Voyager—the first aircraft to circle the world nonstop without refueling. He also created SpaceShipOne—the world’s first privately-built manned spacecraft to reach space—which won the $10 million Ansari X Prize offered in an effort to spur the development of affordable space tourism.

In addition, Rutan was named one of “the world’s 100 most influential people” by TIME in 2005 and has received over 100 awards for aerospace design and development, including the Presidential Citizen’s Medal, the Charles A. Lindbergh Award, and two Collier Trophies. He also founded the aerospace research company Scaled Composites and retired on March 31, 2011.

Rutan is currently working on two projects: the Stratolaunch—part airplane, part spaceship—and the SkiGull—an amphibious aircraft that runs on the same gas we use for cars and boats. In business, Rutan believes that the best ideas come from the collaborative efforts of small, closely-knit project teams, and an environment not limited by adversity to risk.

In his IPC APEX EXPO 2020 keynote titled “SpaceShipOne: A New Era in Commercial Space Travel and Inspiration for Innovation and the New Race for Space,” Rutan inspired attendees with his vision on creativity, innovation, and managers’ tasks to motivate a creative team. Following his presentation, Rutan stopped by the I-Connect007 booth and shared his thoughts on a wide variety of topics, from early fixed-wing flight through Mars expeditions to his love of long sideburns as a tribute to Elvis Presley. I-Connect007 is pleased to share this exclusive interview.

Barry Matties: Burt, thank you for the IPC APEX EXPO 2020 keynote. That was fantastic.

Burt Rutan: You’re welcome. It was a great audience.

Dan Feinberg: The American space effort, as you mentioned today in your keynote, seems to have slowed down over the last decades, but it seems to be gaining a little momentum again. Is that what you see?

Rutan: It’s gaining momentum primarily due to what Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are doing.

Feinberg: Do you feel we’re going to land a person on Mars? If so, when do you predict that could happen?

Rutan: I’d like it to happen before I die. That would be cool. Although, it’s not as exciting of a place to visit as when we were kids. I have a college textbook from the ‘50s that debated what kind of animals would be on Mars. The author’s conclusion was that scientists saw changing colors through telescopes and knew there were plants there, but they didn’t know what kind of animals. We still don’t know whether there’s intelligent life on Mars.

I pointed out a long time ago that the delta-v for a one-way trip to Mars is the same as the delta-v for a round trip to the Moon. If you take something and change its velocity by so much, you have to do that several times when going to the Moon before decelerating and landing. You have to do it again to get into orbit and do it again to come back. Add all that up, and it defines how big your rocket needs to be to start because you throw away pieces of it. Delta-v is the key to what chemical propulsion can do. Clearly, we proved that a 6-million-pound Saturn 5 could do the job of getting two people to the surface of the Moon and back, but delta-v is not different than what it takes to land somebody on Mars. The bottom line is we could use technology from the 1960s to take people to Mars; we just cannot bring them back.

To read this entire interview, which appeared in the April 2020 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.

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