Sad news for the spaceflight and SETI communities this week:
The death of billionaire technologist, philanthropist and private-spaceflight entrepreneur Paul Allen has hit hard for people from many different walks of life.
Allen passed away yesterday (Oct. 15) at the age of 65 from complications of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Though he was best known for co-founding Microsoft, Allen was also an important figure in both the spaceflight and search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) communities.
Most notably, Allen helped bankroll the SETI-focused Allen Telescope Array, a 42-dish network in Northern California, to the tune of $30 million dollars. He was also a major investor in Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne project whose legacy lives on in Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo program, and more recently he founded Stratolaunch Systems featuring a competing air-to-orbit launch system aiming to be operational by 2020.
Understandably, one thing that’s been mostly missing from the coverage so far is any speculation as to the fate of Paul Allen’s estate, estimated to be around $26 billion. I have no doubt that many of the organizations and charities Allen contributed to during his life are holding their breath while awaiting news of his final instructions, especially given that he never married or had children of his own. Will the SETI community be remembered in his will? Beyond the fact that he pledged to leave more than half of his accumulated fortune to charitable causes, we have very little nothing to go on, so only time will tell.
First of all, congratulations to NASA’s New Horizons team for their outstanding work of shepherding their little spacecraft to its successful rendezvous with Pluto and beyond.
As new images and data are downloaded in the months ahead, we will learn a lot about our distant neighbor, but alien hunters and ufologists are likely to remain disappointed, as signs of alien activity, past or present, remain stubbornly absent.
Sad news from Virgin Galactic’s Mojave Air and Space Port this afternoon as details emerged of a fatal crash during the latest test flight of the SpaceshipTwo rocket plane:
[Blogger] Doug Messier wrote on Twitter that he witnessed the crash from Jawbone Station, which is on a ridge overlooking the desert where the craft crashed. “We saw the twin contrails of WhiteKnightTwo overhead. They do that prior to a drop,” he tweeted. “SpaceShipTwo dropped. From what I could tell, motor fired and then stopped then fired again. I think that’s what happened.
Messier reported that clouds made it hard to see clearly, but it appeared that SpaceShipTwo “broke apart and started coming down in pieces over the desert.” He added: “We started seeing clouds of dirt where pieces of the ship came down. One after another. At least three.” Messier reported then driving to one of the debris sites. “Debris from the ship was scattered all over the road,” he said.
This is a stark reminder of just how dangerous space flight can be, even sub-orbital space flight. We take so much for granted these days, even when it comes to going into space. In reality, all who fly high enough to see the blackness of space above them should still be regarded as Space Age pioneers.
Condolences to the family and friends of the pilot who died.