"I Don't Know What They're Doing"
In a speech Thursday
before the International Space Development Conference in Los
Angeles, SpaceShipOne designer Burt Rutan took the opportunity to
grill NASA over the agency's decision to use Apollo-style capsules
to ferry astronauts into space -- and, eventually, the moon -- in
the post-shuttle era, instead of a more inspired design.
"I don't know what they're doing," said Rutan about NASA. "It
doesn't make any sense."
Rutan added NASA's proposed crew exploration vehicle, or CEV,
doesn't push the technical envelope, and isn't capable of more
complex future missions such as a trip to Mars.
Of course, NASA has already admitted as much about the CEV,
saying the agency is looking at a simple, more practical space
vehicle -- similar in concept to the Apollo capsules of the late
1960s-early 1970s, and the current Russian Soyuz -- that is also
much cheaper to build and maintain than the current, aging shuttle
In response to Rutan's comments that criticized NASA for not
aiming higher with its next spacecraft, NASA spokesman Dean Acosta
called the CEV a "fiscally responsible" project, one that can
achieve NASA's objective of returning to the moon -- on a
"If you want sexy, it will cost a lot more money," Acosta
Rutan -- whose company, Scaled Composites, is now working on the
SpaceShipTwo commercial suborbital vehicle -- stressed to the
audience Thursday that a technological breakthrough is needed in
spacecraft design that would make it affordable and safe for humans
to travel throughout the solar system.
Rutan also added he doesn't know what that idea might be -- but
that he has hope that someone, perhaps out of the normal scientific
"Usually the wacky people have the breakthrough. The smart
people don't," Rutan said.
Meanwhile, two groups -- Lockheed Martin, and a team composed of
engineers from Northrop Grumman and Boeing -- have contracts to
develop conceptual designs for the CEV. Both projects reportedly
rely on a combination of Apollo-era design elements, and space
shuttle-tech such as the use of solid rocket boosters.
NASA is expected to name a winner in the CEV design competition