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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

News that matters 

Presidential debates, Al Gore thinks he knows everything, John Kerry turned orange, stop me when I find something that will matter in 10 years.

Ah yes. Rutan's SpaceShipOne (Burt: put the spaces back in that name) did its first qualifying X Prize flight today. One notable glitch: the plane barrel-rolled more than 20 times during the ascent. That's not right.

I was gabbing with my dad about this last night, and we discussed the difference between the serious, measured program Rutan has been running (flight tests, rollout tests; lots of tests) and the insane, possibly suicidal enterprise that is the Canadian Da Vinci project.

The one-sentence comparison: SpaceShipOne is being tested like any other experimental spacecraft, by a group of people with a lot of experience designing experimental aircraft; the Da Vinci project expects that its first flight test will be its first space launch. Not a good idea.

The irony is that the basic Da Vinci concept has merit: Erick did some calculations as part of an sfu.general discussion, and the Wildfire gets some real advantages from its balloon lift to 80,000 feet, as opposed to the lower launch altitude of SpaceShipOne from White Knight. But the advantage of Rutan's airplanes is (aside from being a technology at which Rutan and company have world-class expertise) that you get to pick where your airplanes land. Balloons and parachutes are less amenable to guidance.

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