Burt Rutan, an aviator whose SpaceShipOne won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for making three suborbital space flights, said NASA needs another Wernher von Braun — and chided the space agency for what he called a failed space shuttle program.
On a weekend tour of historic space-program sites, Rutan said the German rocket scientist was a visionary. "We don't have anybody like him today, and that's why we aren't" going forward in spaceflight, he said.
In Huntsville, Rutan met with Ernst Stuhlinger and Konrad Dannenberg, both members of von Braun's Huntsville-based German rocket team, and viewed some of von Braun's research papers. A 1949 book of von Braun's, titled "The Trip to Mars," interested him.
"There it was in print, how to get to Mars. There was the blueprint to accomplish that goal and it was written in 1949," Rutan said.
Rutan showed a film Friday night on SpaceShipOne's development and flight to an audience of 250 people in the U.S. Space and Rocket Center's IMAX theater.
At a press conference, Rutan chided NASA for problems with the shuttle program.
"NASA basically failed with the space shuttle program in the late 1970s before the first launch because it couldn't deliver on the low-cost-to-orbit promise, and it can't deliver on the safety," he said.