Astronomical Aspirations RiCh Kestner ' 70 doesn't see himself as a thwarted astronaut. Not even last October, when he saw contrails bloom high above the Mojave Desert and watched the tiny speck of SpaceShipOne drop from its mother ship, ignite its engine and drive skyward to claim the Ansari X Prize. Not even now, when the state of New Mexico, the White Sands Missile Range and the X Prize Foundation, which is all about putting civilians into space, are working with him to launch what sometimes seems like a dream: a commercial spaceport in the heart of the Southwest. Let others be the astronauts - Kestner's vision is already focused, his personal flight plan tightly struc- tured. This expatriate North Carolin- ian still carries a passion for Tar Heel basketball; he even re-creates eastern North Carolina barbecue in a home smoker. But along the way, he has acquired a deep love for his adopted state, and for him, space is not so much a vision but a practical goal - he wants to see commercial aunches carrying humans into space blasting off routinely from New Mexico. not without precedent. The X Prize itself grew out of founder Peter Diamandis' remem- brance of the early days of commercial avia- tion. Charles Lindbergh and other pioneers crossed the Atlantic in part because the Orteig Prize held out a tangible reward - $25,000 - to the first to complete the flight. In similar fashion, 26 teams signed up to compete for the $10 million X Prize, and now that it has been won, an annual Cup will follow. Each year in the fall, rocket teams from around the world will compete In a series of races, with Kestner's 20 years at White Sands made being around rocketry second nature. He served there in many guises, as an engineering psy- chologist, a project engineer, a mar- keting specialist. "I spent a number of years testing all kinds of things, from tents to tanks," he says. The ground-based midcourse defense system, a missile defense program to protect all 50 states, was one of Kestner's last major projects. That was demanding work, as a civilian working for the Department of the Army. And as he pondered retirement from the federal government, Kestner found himself negotiat- ing with the X Prize Foundation on behalf of the state of New Mexico to make it the venue for the X Prize Cup. Commercial space was on everyone's mind at that time, as a team from Scaled Composites planned the first private space shots. Kestner was still at White Sands, working as part of a team that bested propos- als from rival states Florida, California and Oklahoma to host the Cup. Then the phone rang, with a job offer for Kestner as director of the state's Office of Space Commercialization. Kestner laughs as he recalls accepting the position without bothering to ask about his alary. Civilian space is an audacious idea, but it's
expositions, forums and symposia creating,
the founders hope, a continuing development
of new spaceships. Races such as the Schneider Marine Cup and the Thompson Trophy
pushed new designs and made heroes out of
early aviators like Jimmy Doolittle and Howard
Hughes. Kestner is sure the same magic can
attach itself to civilian spaceflight.
For Rich Kestner ' 70, space Is not so much a vision but a practical goal. He envisions commer·
clallaunches canying humans Into space blasting off routinely from New Mexico.
- Paul Gilster
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