Credit: Scaled Composites

Burt Rutan is a legendary American aerospace designer and entrepreneur noted for his innovations and dynamism, from creating light, strong, unusual-looking, energy-efficient aircraft to his sub-orbital spaceplane design, the SpaceShipOne. That craft in 2004 became the first privately funded spacecraft to enter the realm of space, winning the Ansari X-Prize that year for achieving the feat twice within a two-week period.

Pioneering SpaceShipOne on display at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
Credit: NASM/Eric Long

In reaction to watching a Hollywood-style video of the upcoming SpaceX/NASA May 27th Demo-2 mission four times, — — the now retired Rutan says he remembers what NASA did during its first decade and had to comment, sharing with Inside Outer Space this communiqué.

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley in preparation for their upcoming flight to the International Space Station on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission.
Credit: NASA

Rutan had four comments on the Demo-2 mission:


“The present situation is not exciting, it’s embarrassing. This mission will represent the first time that America will launch humans to space in nine years.  Hmmmm……. exactly the same time period it took America to go from the 10-minute sub-orbital flight of Alan Shepard to a round trip to the surface of the Moon,” Rutan said.

“Media coverage of Demo-2 will likely focus on the tremendous technical breakthroughs and the huge bravery of the two NASA astronauts. But they might not point out the embarrassment of the last nine years. Today’s media seems to never do the research on their stories,” he added.


“Compare the Demo-2 mission to the two-place Gemini program which developed the rendezvous tasks needed for Apollo. Gemini/Titan flew ten manned space flights, the first in March 1965 and the tenth in November 1966. I will be impressed with the performance of today’s NASA/SpaceX/Boeing efforts only when they significantly beat the flight rate Gemini achieved (a manned space flight every two months) 50+ years ago,” Rutan noted.

Credit: SpaceX/Screengrab


“Now, let’s count the new important breakthroughs and capabilities of space launch that have been achieved the last half century: 1) Reuse of the rocket booster’s first stage. This huge breakthrough was accomplished only because SpaceX funded the effort, was willing to take the risk it might not work (a risk that NASA and Boeing were not willing to take) and pressed on in spite of multiple failures.  2) ……crickets………,” Rutan added.


“I cannot fail to comment on the selection of the mission name,” Rutan points out.  “One might think America’s first space mission that finally frees us from paying exorbitant fees to Russia to launch our astronauts on their rocket design that first flew [piloted] in 1967, would command a better name than ‘Demo-2.’ Hell, this is an important milestone, not just some numbered ‘test demo.’ The guy responsible for the name of this mission should be looking for another job, and not one requiring creative marketing skills,” Rutan remarked.

Credit: NASA

Market share

In closing comments, Rutan said that no one familiar with what was done back then can be proud of our current situation. 

“That said, I am now optimistic about the space future because it might finally be driven by real competition among those who do it for profit. The incentive for market share will result in things being done in the most dollar-efficient and quickest possible way,” Rutan suggested.

“Left only to Government, I might not live to see another Moon landing and my six great grandchildren might not live to see us colonize another planet to protect our species from another extinction that would occur due to asteroid/comet impact on Earth,” Rutan concluded.

3 Responses to “Burt Rutan: Views on SpaceX/NASA Demo-2 Mission”

  • Phillip Clark says:

    The first Soyuz flight was in 1966, not 1967. And that refers to both the launch vehicle and the spacecraft.

  • Bill Deaver says:

    Burt sent me a copy of his email to you. Good to see you are alive and kicking! Kind of quiet around here – I’m on the airport board of directors and we are open for business!

  • David W. Clark, P.E. says:

    Mr. Rutan,
    You remain the most admired engineer from my perspective. You have accomplished more driven by your own determination, grit, intelligence and design savvy than any previous engineer I have ever read in history annals or through current publications. I had the privilege of listening to your presentation in late 1990s while a Technical Specialist at Ford in Dearborn, Michigan.

    I often wonder why engineers are not called upon to solve our country’s problems as that’s essentially what engineers are trained to do. Rather, the political establishment is held primarily by lawyers who, by trade, are trained to argue. At what point do we break down enough that the engineers are once again called upon to remedy problems birthed and propagated by lawyers? Did you know there are no licensed engineers in Congress but most in Wash DC are professionally licensed to argue. I would welcome your thoughts on this topic!


    David W. Clark, P.E.

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