MY FOX TV AGENT ALWAYS WITH A POSITIVE NOTE AS WE WAIT
These are 2 attempts we have made to get the Race to space show going and you in association.
Stay positive were almost there, Robert.
February 13, 2007
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In Race to TakeTourists Into Orbit,Partners Split, Spar
Bragging Rights DividedSpaceShipOne Creators;Virgin's $250 Million Bet
By ANDY PASZTORFebruary 13, 2007; Page A1
When the suborbital craft SpaceShipOne first lifted off from the Mojave desert in June of 2004, it ignited lofty dreams of space travel for tourists. Now, it's fueling a feud between its two creators.
Partners Burt Rutan, a famous aerospace designer, and Jim Benson, an entrepreneur, envisioned that passengers would pay $200,000 for the ultimate joy ride -- a roughly two-hourlong flight reaching 3,000 miles per hour and more than 60 miles above the earth.
But after sparring over who deserves credit for various aspects of SpaceShipOne, the two men are now fierce competitors. They are working on two separate ventures and are currently in a race to become the first to offer commercial flights into space.
Last fall, Mr. Benson set up Benson Space Co., declaring that he intended to beat Mr. Rutan and his new partner, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, to the launch pad. Mr. Benson hopes to offer paying passengers the first regular rides as soon as December 2008 -- potentially many months before the Rutan-Branson venture, called Virgin Galactic.
The dispute between Messrs. Rutan and Benson centers on who developed key parts of the novel rocket motor that powered the red-white-and-blue SpaceShipOne on two consecutive flights to space in less than two weeks. Using a mixture of rubber and laughing gas as fuel, the motor, say proponents, is simpler to operate and less prone to accidental explosion than conventional rocket engines.
Mr. Rutan conceived, built and tested the bullet-shaped spacecraft while Mr. Benson focused on the intricacies of the rocket motor. Mr. Benson, who acquired the preliminary concepts and drawings from a now-defunct company, says his crew spent months perfecting them. "SpaceShipOne would not have happened without us," he says. He claims his team "designed and built every single part and component" except for the bell-shaped exhaust nozzle at the rear and the outside motor casing.
Not so, according to Mr. Rutan. He says the Benson team's work was limited to a valve and some plumbing inside the engine -- not the most-challenging components that had to be engineered to withstand 5,000-degree temperatures. "We've had an enormous dispute with Jim Benson for fraudulently claiming that he developed the rocket propulsion system" for SpaceShipOne, Mr. Rutan says.
Mr. Benson has challenged his foe "to sit down in a public forum and go over the 200 emails" detailing core engine contributions.
The showdown features two self-assured and stubborn rivals, both used to getting their way.
Mr. Rutan views himself as a 21st-century match for the feisty-spirited Wright Brothers. Known for his signature leather aviator jacket and mutton-chop sideburns, he has long dismissed government aviation and space officials as unimaginative -- saying they are more interested in pushing paper than exploring new frontiers. He frequently calls the National Aeronautics and Space Administration the department of "naysay."
Pilot Brian Binnie stands atop SpaceShipOne, the winner of the $10 million ANSARI X PRIZE, Oct. 4, 2004, in Mojave, Calif.
A secretive sort, Mr. Rutan built his reputation by bucking conventional wisdom about aerodynamics. In the 1980s, he and his closely held Scaled Composites aviation shop gained international recognition for designing and building Voyager, a graceful twin-engine propeller plane that completed the first nonstop flight around the world without refueling.
Mr. Benson, a geologist by training, is more attuned to the demands of marketing and finance. He made his fortune in the computer industry in the 1990s by developing a path-breaking search engine able to manipulate text files.
Mr. Benson sold his two software companies to a group of private investors in 1995 for about $10 million. He invested most of that to set up SpaceDev Inc., a parts supplier for commercial and government space systems, in August 1997. Later that year, the company went public. Today, SpaceDev has 220 employees in three states. Volatile from the beginning, the company's stock at one point climbed to around $8 a share but is now trading at below $1.
Mr. Benson says he believed early on that space ventures, once they were run by pragmatic managers, "would probably create the first trillionaires." Rather than starting from scratch, his philosophy has been to save time and money by exploiting and improving upon existing technologies.
As Mr. Rutan solicited proposals from several firms for rocket motors in 2000 and 2001, he was increasingly drawn to Mr. Benson's track record as a manager and businessman. With funding from billionaire Paul Allen, the two men formally joined forces in 2003 to create SpaceShipOne.
It didn't take long for their cordial relationship to turn frosty. Tim Pickens, an engineer initially in charge of supervising work on SpaceShipOne's rocket motor, says Mr. Rutan frequently fumed about what he considered the engine-maker's penchant for publicity and skirting nondisclosure agreements.
Even before the design was fixed, the Benson team was jockeying for the best position for its own SpaceDev corporate logo on the rocket ship, according to Mr. Pickens. At the time, Mr. Pickens recalls wondering "how much of Benson's effort was really designed for public relations."
Mr. Benson remembers some talk about displaying logos of various suppliers as a "nice tip of the hat" for their contributions. Mr. Rutan's reaction to that suggestion was comparable to "hitting a brick wall at 60 miles an hour." Mr. Rutan's demand for no logos prevailed.
Animosity between the two men increased, with exchanges of sharp emails. Mr. Rutan even threatened to file suit to block public discussion about the motor. (He says he never did, to avoid the expense and distraction of litigation.)
Yet when a small army of journalists and television crews assembled for the final launch, in the fall of 2004, supporters of Mr. Benson energetically waved large signs in the crowd proclaiming SpaceDev was responsible for the engines.
The successful flight earned Mr. Rutan the $10 million Ansari X Prize prize, bestowed by a private foundation for spaceflight innovation. After the hoopla of the win subsided, the two men went their separate ways.
Almost immediately, Mr. Rutan linked up with the flamboyant Mr. Branson, who has since committed an estimated $250 million to take his Virgin trademark into orbit aboard an eight-passenger version of SpaceShipOne. Mr. Rutan says he and his employees are designing and fabricating a new, upgraded engine.
Mr. Rutan quips that rivals such as Mr. Benson and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos -- who built a spaceport in Texas and is working on his own rocket ship -- aren't "really even in the same business," since none of them have yet accomplished the basic task of flying a reusable rocketship into space. A spokesman for Mr. Bezos had no comment.
Mr. Benson, pushing his vision just as hard, has talked about raising $50 million to build and test a rocketship based on a 1980's-vintage U.S. government design resembling today's Space Shuttle. "I haven't been as flamboyant, and haven't had as much money" as Mr. Rutan, he says. "But I think he's worried, and he ought to be worried."
In the next few weeks, Mr. Benson plans to announce a nationwide competition to hand out free rides aboard his spacecraft. Lately, Mr. Benson has resorted to what may be the ultimate insult: refusing to name Mr. Rutan as his true rival. At this point, Mr. Benson says, "we have Benson competing with Branson."
Write to Andy Pasztor at firstname.lastname@example.org
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