Coolest Inventions 2004: Invention of the Year: The Sky's the Limit

Ingenious design. Entrepreneurial moxie. A world-changing vision of the future. The amazing SpaceShipOne has it all

When the first American flew into space in 1961, Burt Rutan was a 17-year-old college freshman. Listening to news of Alan Shepard's groundbreaking suborbital flight on the radio, Rutan was euphoric. He too hoped to go into space one day--and was disappointed that a cautious NASA had allowed the Soviets to beat the U.S. to the prize. "We could have had the first man in space," Rutan recalls, "and we sent a monkey instead."

The possibilities back then seemed limitless, and it was easy for Rutan's generation to imagine they would all get to taste zero-gravity one day. It didn't work...

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