In this conservative economic environment, where most entrepreneurs are hunkering down and playing it safe, aviation legend Burt Rutan is shooting for the stars—literally.
Rutan is the genius behind the Voyager plane, a multipropeller aircraft that in 1986 circled the globe on a single tank of gas. Rutan, who started an outfit in the Mojave Desert called Scaled Composites, has produced more than 300 experimental-aircraft designs. "He is almost single-handedly shaping suborbital flight exploration in pursuit of a universal dream to fly high," says Ideo's Jane Fulton Suri. On April 8, Rutan sent his test craft, SpaceShipOne, nearly 20 miles above the Earth—one-third the distance to space. Why not all the way? He received government permission only to burn the rocket for 40 seconds, giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "the sky's the limit."
A version of this article appeared in the June 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.