Two big ideas behind one big achievement

Published 1:18 am Monday, December 6, 2004

By Staff
Arthur McLean
The other night, I watched a great documentary on the SpaceShipOne program broadcast by the Discovery Channel.
If you've had your head under a rock, SpaceShipOne is the first privately funded and constructed spaceship to fly into space. It won the $10 million X-Prize competition for such a feat.
I've written about this before in this space, but bear with me this time.
On Oct. 15, 2003, China proudly proclaimed to the world that it had just successfully sent a man, into orbit, in a capsule from a rocket.
Wait a minute, a large country bolted a man into a tiny capsule and blasted him into earth orbit. Have I been transported back to 1961?
Less than a year later, SpaceShipOne wins the X-Prize. Now you might think it's just another point on the timeline. You'd be wrong.
Compare and contrast. A guy, Burt Rutan, a former test pilot, starts up his own company. He becomes successful as an aviation designer through the 1970s and on.
This other guy, Paul G. Allen, takes a chance in the 80s with a then unknown software company called Microsoft. Microsoft explodes through the free market system with products called DOS and Windows.
Allen becomes one of the wealthiest men on the planet.
Flash forward to about 2001, and Allen invests less than 1 percent of his worth into Rutan's project to build a spaceship.
In about three years' time, this partnership produces a craft that sends a man into space, comes back, and the same craft sends another man into space within two weeks of the first launch. All without the help of a giant government program.
How do you like them apples?
How long did it take the Chinese government? There's no way to really know, but one could estimate that there were at least several years of research and development, plus eight years of bribing the Clinton administration and more time copying some Russian designs to get into space.
It warms my heart to see Chinese communism proudly marching into the mid-20th century.
It's important to draw these comparisons because it would be easy to look at these event as all things being equal. They are not.
Two successful entrepeneurs and their staffs joined to accomplish something that has never happened before.
Sure the X-Prize was the catalyst, but none of this would have been possible without two very big ideas; freedom and capitalism. Without both of these, there would likely be no Paul G. Allen, multibillionaire, and no Burt Rutan, wildly successful aviation pioneer and businessman, and therefore, no SpaceShipOne and no acheiving the impossible, and no dreams of greater heights for future generations.
This may sound gingoistic to some of you, but there are teams vying for this same goal from about a dozen other countries. It only happened in this one.
Arthur McLean is the editor of the Atmore Advance.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox