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The Engineer

The Life and Times of Donald F. Simmons

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Kitty Hawk

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brother's first controlled flight at Kitty Hawk. The Wrights' were true innovators. Not only did they spend years evaluating countless different wing designs (building their own wind tunnel to do it), but they made great strides in propeller and engine design as well. Maybe their biggest contribution to aviation was legitimizing it. Once they showed it could be done, they made it much easier for other heavier-than-air flight groups to get support for their efforts, and within a decade you had all sorts of rickety biplanes buzzing around.

Here's hoping the same thing it happen in the space industry. Getting into orbit today isn't any easier or cheaper than it was 30 years ago. We are nowhere near developing the infrastructure or vehicles we need to make the push to a true space culture.

The X-Prize, the race to build a reusable suborbital craft, just might be the Kitty Hawk we need. Yes, these vehicles can't make it into orbit by a large margin, but they might convince enough people that it is possible to make the leap into space without spending billions of dollars and needing government agencies. There's a great article on the promise of these programs to be found here.