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Wed, Jul 30, 2008

Branson, Rutan Stun AirVenture Audience With SS2 Announcement

"The First Place We're Going To Bring It Commercially Is Oshkosh"

by ANN Correspondent Valentino Valencia

Every chair was filled, and for most it was standing room only at Pavilion 7 at Oshkosh. Anticipation filled the room Tuesday to hear Will Whitehorn, Burt Rutan and Sir Richard Branson speak on the future of space flight, and White Knight Two.

Branson and Rutan are often criticized in the general media... but if there is one place that they are universally well received and adored, it's Oshkosh. There was applause with every accomplishment, and laughter with every joke. However, this did not stop the gentlemen from getting their point across.

"The signal that we wanted to get across for rolling out White Night Two is that we are getting ready for business," said Branson to the captive audience. The business he was referring to was not about sightseeing visits to space, but about a whole new way of life.

It's Branson's vision and passion for space, as Rutan put it, that gives him "the ability and ambition to drive followers, in masses, to go and get and take this, not to the beginnings of commercial space flight, but into a whole new industry." Driven by that ambition, they plan to move on very quickly to make that dream a reality.

"Richard and I have decided, that we -- as old as we are -- we want to see commercial flights to make that beautiful swing around the moon, too, from that resort hotel and I think that can happen in our lifetime today," said Rutan.

The name of their new spacecraft production company is simply called 'The Spaceship Company'. The name may not be too flashy, but when you're the first to embark on a new industry, it seems fitting that you keep the name simple.

Tuesday's forum at AirVenture came just 24 hours after Rutan and Branson unveiled White Knight Two at Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. Roughly three times larger than the original White Knight, the four-engine, dual-hull aircraft is the 40th aircraft design developed by Rutan that has made it to the flight test phase. The wing spar, at 140 feet in length, is the longest single carbon composite aviation component ever manufactured.

White Knight Two will be the launch vehicle for SpaceShipTwo, and Branson promised the vehicle -- named "Eve," after his mother -- would fly at AirVenture 2009. But that's not all.

"We’re going to take it to Sweden to fly in the aurora borealis, to the UK, Spain, and Australia from our home base in New Mexico," Branson told the crowd. "But the first place we’re going to bring it commercially is Oshkosh. We’re going to make six new astronauts right here in the evening air show with SpaceShipTwo."

Needless to say, if the overall propose of Burt and Richard's visit was to inspire and make people believe in something that is bigger than themselves, then they definitely succeeded.

One audience member queried, "What is it us commoners can do to help your endeavor?" Rutan responded, "when we started to built spaceship one I started with approximately 115 employees, and is now more than 300 employees, and a lot of those folks came right out of this kind of audience. The types of people that we see and meet at Oshkosh. The types of people that you see with passion in their eyes. And when I walk on the stage here and talk to you, this audience has more passion than any other audience than I have ever talked to."

FMI: www.scaled.com, www.virgingalactic.com, www.airventure.org

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