Rutan, NASA Collaborate On Space Plane Test

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They say politics makes for strange bedfellows but it appears the tiny fraternity of space explorers also has some unexpected liaisons. While Scaled Composites' Burt Rutan was telling (yet another) conference on space development how generally inept and ill-suited NASA is for the job at hand, his mothership White Knight was running up and down the runways at Mojave mated to the X-37, a pilotless Mach 27-capable space plane in sporadic development by NASA, Boeing and the military. At the International Space Development Conference, Rutan said NASA is wasting money on the space shuttle and imaginary spacecraft that will never be built and should get out of the human spaceflight business altogether. "NASA is destined to be sidestepped by commercial outfits, because it is not doing anything fun or inspiring, and it kills too many people," he said. Meanwhile, back in Mojave, Rutan's people are working side by side with NASA engineers trying to make one of those sometimes-illusory spacecraft fly. The X-37 is billed as an unpiloted, autonomously operated vehicle to conduct on-orbit operations and to collect test data on re-entry. Ultimately, it's a test bed for future reusable space vehicles, but its stop-and-go development over the past seven years (due to NASA's apparent indecision on its potential role) has kept it earthbound. So far, White Knight has only carried the X-37 in high-speed taxi tests but the plan is to perform drop tests, although no schedule has been released.