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04/22/2005 Archived Entry: ""A Vision in Flight" -- the marvelous Burt Rutan"

"A VISION IN FLIGHT." Alan Bock's column on Burt Rutan is heart-lifting. Rutan sounds like an Ayn Rand hero come to life. Competition: Bring it on! Government: Get out of the way! And let the children dream of glorious ships and adventures in space.

The other thing is that he's upfront about is that the early flights will be mainly for fun. "Quite frankly, we don't know what space flight is for," he told the Reason audience. "We'll find out when thousands of people have done it and I have dozens of competitors."

He reminded us that in the early days of computers people didn't know what they were really for either. People talked about balancing their checkbooks, but few used them for that. Instead they played games and played with the computer's capabilities. They had fun. Then they discovered practical uses.

"But computers didn't become really practical until everybody had one and the Internet was expanded," he said.

It was a progression that neither computer giant IBM nor the government successfully predicted.

He also has some more serious analysis of the fact that since space flight has been a government monopoly there has been a severe deficit in innovation. Beyond his charming habit of pronouncing NASA as "naysay," which delighted the large crowd in Mojave and the smaller crowd at the Reason Weekend, he marshals facts and figures.

In 1908, he notes, only 10 pilots had flown airplanes. By 1912, thousands of pilots in 39 countries had flown dozens of different models. That was before mail planes, before World War I demonstrated military uses for airplanes, long before there was a commercial airline industry, and long before the development of practical jet planes.

By contrast, in the first year after Russian Yuri Gagarin ventured into space, there were five manned space flights. In 2004, 44 years later, there were five manned space flights, "two in Russia and three in Mohave."

I passed the column by on LewRockwell.com this morning. It took a real rocket scientist (THE Rocket Scientist, actually, Wolfesblog's faithful correspondent) to sit me down and make me read it. Glad I did.

Posted by Claire @ 12:01 PM CST

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