Any work NASA is doing to return to the moon is "silly," Burt Rutan, the engineer who won the Ansari X Prize for a suborbital rocket plane, told a panel at CalTech on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the space program, News.com reports.
"Taxpayer-funded NASA should only fund research and not development," Rutan said. "When you spend hundreds of billions of dollars to build a manned spacecraft, you're...dumbing down a generation of new, young engineers (by telling them) "No, you can't take new approaches, you have to use this old technology."
"I think it's absurd they're doing Orion development at all. It should be done commercially," he said, referring to the name of the lunar spacecraft.
NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said, "I will continue to think space programs are important."
Rutan designed SpaceShipOne, the rocket that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize by breaking the Earth's atmosphere twice during a set time. Now he's working on SpaceShipTwo for Virgin Galactic, which hopes to launch commercial space flights by 2009.
Rutan said that there wasn't "much innovation" at NASA since 1970. Griffin said NASA's science budget hasn't shrunk, noting that in the agency's first decade the science budget was 17% and today it is 32%. Last year, NASA didn't have a budget to develop new technologies.
"There is a mythology that science has been decimated by human spaceflight. That's not right." Griffin said.
According to Rutan, the goal of private space tourism is to reduce the cost of space travel and exploration.
"If we go through a time period where the focus is on flying the consumer, these 'payloads' who pay to fly and can be reproduced with unskilled labor...with tools around the house," he joked, "there will be a breakthrough to enormous volume."