By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
It doesn't matter much; in this room Rutan needs little introduction. First off, he's an aerospace legend. Since 1972, he's rolled out an unmatched record of 38 experimental aircraft. The best known are the Voyager, which made the first nonstop, non-refueled flight around the world, and the Proteuswhich holds the world record for altitude, distance and payload lift. Secondly, the press conference is taking place at an airplane hangar at the Mojave Airport, which also doubles as headquarters for Rutan's company, Scaled Composites. Today, the legend is making a little more history by unveiling the world's first privately funded, manned spaceship.
Rutan's spaceship is an attempt to win the $10 million X Prize Competition, awarded to the first privately funded person or team to travel to and from the edge of space. The X rules are simple: The spaceship must be flown twice in two weeks, each flight must carry one person to a minimum altitude of 100 kilometers (62 miles), the crew must return from each flight in good health, the vehicle must come back in good enough shape to be reusable, and entrants must specify takeoff and landing sites ahead of time. That's it. Get up. Get down. Don't get dead.
Not getting dead brings up NASA, a considerable topic of conversation here and the target of some pointed jokes about the space agency's inability to keep its crews alive. Which is the other reason Rutan built his spaceship — because almost everyone in the room shares the same basic opinion: NASA sucks and if you want a shot at outer space, do it yourself.
Rutan is a tall man with a tousle of gray hair and sideburns that make him look like the Neil Young of aerospace engineering. When he finally takes the mike, Rutan echoes the general anti-establishment theme: "In the 42 years since space flight became possible," he says, "we've had 241 manned space flights which have taken a total of 437 people into space. When Buzz first walked on the moon, I'll bet he was thinking that in 40 years we'll be walking on Mars. But we're not and we're not close."
Peter Diamandis, who created the X Prize, did so because "I was tired of waiting for NASA to get the job done. The old model of government-funded space exploration is stalled. We need the capitalist engine to help open the space frontier."
But even the capitalist engine is driving slowly. In the eight years since its inception, more than 24 teams from seven nations have signed up to participate, but this is the first time any team has unveiled an actual vehicle.
Up at the podium, Rutan hits a button and a curtain drops and we're looking at his personal space shuttle, secretly in the works for two years. White Knight, his mother ship, looks like a giant, turbocharged fork. It has an 82-foot seagull wingspan with a pair of fuselages each set halfway down the wing. In the center hangs the cockpit, which looks like the Strangelovebomb with windows. Beneath the cockpit sits another ship: the aptly named SpaceShipOne. SS1 has a similar cockpit to White Knight's but it's attached to a giant triangular body with manta-ray fins and a rocket engine sticking out its butt.
The idea is that White Knighttakes off like a normal airplane and flies to 53,000 feet while towing SpaceShipOne. It then drops the spaceship, which fires up its rocket engine and darts off into the universe. When it is time to come home, the giant triangle levers up to a 45-degree angle from the cockpit, and the whole things floats back to Earth like a glider. Simple. Just don't get dead.
Everybody piles outside and watches as the White Knighttakes off and does loops ä and whirls, and the whole deal is like a tennis match crossed with an X-Filesepisode. Then we head back inside for technical details — such as, the rocket uses nitrous oxide as fuel and was built for dirt cheap, which in the aerospace industry means about what it costs to paint a space shuttle. And then it's time for coffee and cookies and the weird feeling of being in the room when history got made.
We Have Our Issues
LOOKING BACK AT 25 YEARS OF L.A. WEEKLY
The shame of L.A. theater is over, and for proof we need cite only one fact: In the L.A. Basin, in 1979, there are more than sixty-five(65) different, small theaters. The growth of theater in this town of the past few years is unparalleled anywhere in the country, and perhaps anywhere in the world . . . That L.A. theater is healthy, however, doesn't mean it has no problems. Talk to any producer in town and you will hear tales of frustration and struggle: There is no sure-fire way, including producing a string of hit plays, for theaters to get money, grants and an audience. And, of course, the power of the L.A. Timestheater critics is maddening.
October 5-11, 1979
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city