Burt Rutan has given Hyperbola permission to print in full the original memo the founder of Scaled Composites sent to Congressman Frank Wolf that was the basis for the Wall Street Journal article that has sparked so much comment including from Rutan himself. Rutan’s further comments that he released on 26 February can be found here in Hyperbola’s previous blog posting about this episode in the US national debate over what NASA should do next
I occasionally banter with my friend, Mike Griffin on subjects that
include golf, the AGW scare and NASA policy. After sending him my
latest tirade, he shared with me his recent letter to you regarding
taxpayer-funded space research. I promised him that I would send you my
thoughts on the debate, which follow:
From my past comments on NASA’s post-mid-70s manned space
efficiencies/accomplishments, an observer might think that I would
applaud a decision to turn this important responsibility over to
commercial developers. However, he would be wrong.
No question, it would be good to see commercial companies quickly
succeed at orbital access and to take that capability beyond low earth
orbit. However, I am fearful that the commercial guys will fail; i.e.
they will do little more in my remaining lifetime than NASA accomplished
in 3.5 years with Gemini in the mid 1960s. That would be a very big
mistake for America to make, as we move into an era of real competition
in space exploration as well as risk the loss of our leadership in
nearly every other technical discipline.
Mike Griffin’s excellent statement says it best; “I too want, in the
strongest possible terms, to have government policies which serve to
stimulate private development of space. But at the same time, I too am
reluctant — with an analogy to instrument flying — to give up an
airport where I know I can get in on the approach, for one where I
What I would like to see is a decade or two of overlap – an initial push
in the commercial arena of manned spaceflight (Development programs, not
Research programs), while NASA flies risky new ideas (read, true
Research programs, giving at least a chance of discovering an important
new Breakthrough), and at the same time pushes the forefront of
Exploration beyond the earth’s moon.
Imagine how much better America could motivate our youth if we were
spending the billions of Stimulus Package money on making real progress
in our efforts to someday colonize off the planet.
Two years after Neil and Buzz landed on the moon, America led the world
in awarding PhDs in science/engineering/math. Today we are not even on
the first or second page and most of our University’s technical
graduates take their skills back to their own countries to compete with
us. The motivation of our youth is the most important thing we do for
our nation’s long-term security and prosperity. NASA’s role in that can
be as critical as it was in the 60s if the taxpayers fund true Research
The attachment is a photo I took at the Shuttle STS-130 launch -
Caption: “Reaction when told about the President’s NASA directive to
abandon manned spaceflight”.
As always, I am ok with the distribution of my thoughts without
While I usually offer candid remarks at the drop of the hat, I am not
interested in Congressional testimony, since under duress I occasionally
have been known to blurt out the truth. I have no interest in being in
the same room with John Holdren….. Taking a line from a very old play:
“I must turn away, least I soil my hands with the blood of a fool”