Remembering Paul Allen, Tech Visionary

Posted on Mon, October 22, 2018

"As always, space remains an unforgiving frontier, and the skies overhead will surely present obstacles and setbacks that must be overcome. But hard challenges demand fresh approaches." - Paul Gardner Allen, 1953-2018

Entrepreneur, philanthropist, and collector Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, made a notable impression here at the National Air and Space Museum.

Suspended above our Boeing Milestones of Flight hall, as if descending from a foray into space, is SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million Ansari X-Prize in 2004 for designer Burt Rutan and his funding sponsor Paul Allen. SpaceShipOne was the first privately developed spacecraft capable of taking passengers on suborbital flights. This star-spangled rocketplane became a harbinger of space tourism, not yet realized but tantalizingly close.

Paul G. Allan and Burt Rutan

SpaceShipOne sole sponsor Paul G. Allen, left, and designer Burt Rutan.

Allen’s involvement with SpaceShipOne came through his signature company, Vulcan, Inc., through which he channeled his energy and resources to stimulate innovation. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that Allen was interested in everything. He invested in a variety of companies in the entertainment and communications sectors, owned professional sports teams, and sponsored undersea exploring expeditions and wildlife conservation efforts. He established and endowed research institutes to study the brain, cells, and disease. He sought to make progress against environmental and public health challenges and to be a wise steward of his wealth.

His visionary spirit will reside here in SpaceShipOne.

He also meant to have fun. A man who was passionate about aviation and spaceflight – and about computing, science fiction, and music – Allen founded three museums in the Seattle area.

His Flying Heritage and Combat Armor Museum houses an enviable collection of vintage World War II military aircraft. Regarded for its careful preservation and restoration, this collection includes aircraft returned to flying condition. It is a star in the constellation of fine aviation museums.

View of SpaceShipOne hanging in its new location in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall


View of SpaceShipOne hanging in its new location in the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall at the National Air and Space Museum's National Mall building, September 4, 2015. Credit: National Air and Space Museum

The Experience Music Project—a hybrid museum and hands-on center, features popular rock ‘n’ roll artists’ recordings, instruments, and costumes as well as opportunities for visitors to experiment with, perform, and record music themselves. Allen himself played electric guitar in a band and wanted to share that pleasure with others. His Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame displays rare editions of literary classics and props from classic films in this genre.

The National Air and Space Museum, like much of the world at large, is indebted to Paul Allen for his foundational work in personal computing and software. We could not do our daily work, and fulfill our outreach mission beyond our walls, effectively without the tremendous capabilities unleashed by Microsoft since he and Bill Gates started business together in 1975. Beyond that practical but profound impact, we appreciate Paul G. Allen, collector and curator of interests so similar to ours. His visionary spirit will reside here in SpaceShipOne.

SpaceShipOne Nose

Image of the nose of SpaceShipOne, which completed the first manned private spaceflight in 2004.

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