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Wednesday, June 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Paul Allen sees space tourism in our future
By Andrew Garber
Billionaire Paul Allen says he "sure wouldn't mind" taking a ride someday in the spaceship he paid to have built in the California desert.
"But you have to understand, you have test pilots flying this thing right now," the co-founder of Microsoft said. "You want to prove out these things and use it many times before you'd want to have passengers on board."
Space tourism "is around the corner, but it's not here yet," Allen, 51, said in a rare interview.
On Monday, Allen's rocket ship, called SpaceShipOne, is expected to attempt to reach sub-orbital space. If successful, it would be the first private, manned spaceship to leave the earth's atmosphere.
The pilot of the spaceship is expected to be weightless for more than three minutes and see the blackness of space before gliding back to earth. The craft does not go fast enough to put it into orbit.
Allen spent more than $20 million to build the spaceship, which is attracting wide media attention. The craft was put together by a team led by Burt Rutan, who became famous for building a privately funded airplane that in 1986 made the first flight around the world without refueling.
Rutan is urging the masses to attend the event, which is expected to draw up to 30,000 people to the small town of Mojave, Calif.
If Monday's flight is successful, SpaceShipOne is later expected to contend for the $10 million Ansari X Prize, a competition to launch three people into suborbital space, bring them back safely and do it again within two weeks using the same vehicle. Several private groups are in contention for the prize.
"We're working our way up to trying to win the X Prize over the next few months, so that's an exciting prospect," Allen said.
Beyond that, he said, "We're hoping to show ... that private ventures in this kind of leading-edge field, do what would have cost NASA 20 years ago hundreds of millions of dollars. Now private individuals can do these kinds of things."
Rutan predicts SpaceShipOne will eventually pave the way for a flourishing space-tourism industry.
"I think you'll find that someone with (an average) salary who can afford to go out and buy a luxury cruise vacation ... that you could be an astronaut. You could see that same black sky that Alan Shepard saw," Rutan said, referring to the first U.S. astronaut to go into space.
Andrew Garber: 360-943-9882 or email@example.com
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