Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen — who funded private spaceships, one of the largest aircraft in the world, and the search for life elsewhere in the Universe – has died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 65.
“It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of @PaulGAllen, our founder and noted technologist, philanthropist, community builder, conservationist, musician and supporter of the arts, All of us who worked with Paul feel an inexpressible loss today,” Allen’s company, Vulcan, Inc., announced in a tweet.
Allen poured the billions he made from Microsoft into a number of business and philanthropic ventures, including three space projects. He spent $28 million to back Burt Rutan’s entry in the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million competition for the first privately-built crewed vehicle to reach space twice within a two-week period.
SpaceShipOne claimed the prize on Oct. 4, 2004, after Scaled Composites pilot Brian Binnie flew the small, rocket-powered craft above Karman line at 100 km (62 miles) from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California. The first prize flight was flown five days earlier by Scaled pilot Mike Melvill.
SpaceShipOne was retired after this flight, which was its third above the Karman line. The vehicle now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air & Space Museum in Washington, DC.
Allen licensed the technology to fellow billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which worked with Scaled to develop the SpaceShipTwo suborbital tourism vehicle. Between the licensing income, the Ansari X Prize prize money (which he split with Rutan) and the donation to the Smithsonian, Allen made a profit from the venture.
“So sad to hear about the passing of Paul Allen,” Branson tweeted. “Among many other things he was a pioneer of commercial space travel. We shared a belief that by exploring space in new ways we can improve life on Earth. All our thoughts are with his loved ones.”
Allen also backed the SETI Institute’s search for life elsewhere in the Universe. The Allen Telescope Array (ATA), located in the Cascade Mountains just north of Lassen Peak in California, conducts searches for signals from alien civilizations on a daily basis.
The first phase of the ATA consists of 42 six-meter (19.7-foot) dish antennas. The eventual plan is to have 350 antennas searching for signs of extraterrestrial life.
@jilltarter in mourning Paul Allen, who was a friend to the Institute and helped get the Allen Telescope Array up and running with his generosity and enthusiasm for the science. He will be missed,” the SETI Institute tweeted.
Allen’s most recent space project, Stratolaunch, had him teamed again with Rutan and Scaled Composites. The gigantic dual-fuselage aircraft, which has a wingspan of 117.3 meters (385 feet), is designed to air-launch satellites using an array of different boosters. The airplane recently completed a series of taxi tests in Mojave in preparation for its maiden flight.
“We are deeply saddened about the passing of our founder, Paul G. Allen,” Stratolaunch tweeted. “He was a visionary who inspired us all to dream big.”
Allen also collected historic aircraft, which are housed at the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum in Everett, Wash. The collection features rare military aircraft, tanks and military hardware from the United States, Germany, Japan, Russia, and the United Kingdom.