Paul G. Allen, the billionaire investor and philanthropist, announced last night that he and engineer Burt Rutan are donating SpaceShipOne to the Smithsonian Institution.
And officials at the National Air and Space Museum immediately said they were clearing a place in the Milestones of Flight Gallery for the 3,000-pound craft. Last year SpaceShipOne became the first privately developed rocket ship to cross the threshold into space, making three flights to an altitude of more than 62 miles.
Pilot Brian Binnie on SpaceShipOne, coming to Washington in August.
(Robert Galbraith -- Reuters)
Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft, invested $20 million in the project. Last night Allen and Rutan received the National Air and Space Museum Trophy, a prize for aerospace, science and technology achievement, at a black-tie dinner for 300 at the museum.
Before the ceremony, Allen talked about how his interest in aviation led to this personal adventure, as well as investment, saying it was similar to how his lifelong attraction to music and science fiction had inspired building museums for those interests. In addition to marveling at Rutan's ideas for rocketry, he was also drawn by the Ansari X Prize, which offered $10 million to the first team to take a private spacecraft to an altitude of 62 miles twice in two weeks.
Allen said he was intrigued by Rutan's plans. "You just think the attempt itself is so exciting and such a worthy thing to do that you are drawn in by the idea and fascinated by the challenge and want to make it happen," Allen said.
In giving the spacecraft to the Smithsonian, Allen said he hopes to inspire today's youngsters, just as the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space missions of his time captivated him.
"It really is an honor to be involved in an aerospace effort and to have it end up at the Smithsonian," Allen said.
And when SpaceShipOne is officially given to the museum, Allen is entitled to a charitable-gift deduction. He looked surprised at the notion and laughed, saying: "I assume that the people who take care of my financials will look closely at that, but that is not the reason for the gift. There is no better home for SpaceShipOne."
Valerie Neal, a curator in the space history division, said the museum follows a set of criteria when deciding what gifts to accept. They must have both historic and technical importance. "Most are associated with a significant historic event, a first-time event, or an introduction of a new design, or setting a record," Neal said.
Besides crossing the threshold into space, SpaceShipOne received the first license from the Federal Aviation Administration for a private rocket flight. Its innovations include a wing that folds up during spaceflight and works as a brake to provide a smooth reentry, a hybrid rocket motor and a pressurized cabin, which eliminates the need for a pressure suit.
SpaceShipOne will take its place on the Mall between the Ryan NYP Spirit of St. Louis, flown by Charles Lindbergh, and the Bell X-1, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier, piloted by Charles "Chuck" Yeager. SpaceShipOne will arrive in August.