Giant Plane to Launch People Into Orbit

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Microsoft Corp. co-founder Paul Allen and aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan are building the world's biggest plane to help launch cargo and astronauts into space, in the latest of several ventures fueled by technology tycoons clamoring to write America's next chapter in spaceflight. Their plans, unveiled Tuesday, call for a twin-fuselage aircraft with wings longer than a football field to carry a rocket high into the atmosphere and drop it, avoiding the need for a launch pad and the expense of additional rocket fuel. Allen, who teamed up with Rutan in 2004 to send the first privately financed, manned spacecraft into space, said his new project would "keep America at the forefront of space exploration" and give a new generation of children something to dream about. "We have plenty and many challenges ahead of us," he said at a news conference. Allen and Rutan join a field crowded with Silicon Valley veterans who grew up on "Star Trek" and now want to fill a void created with the retirement of NASA's space shuttle. Several companies are competing to develop spacecraft to deliver cargo and astronauts to the International Space Station.

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