The San Diego Air and Space Museum in Balboa Park continues its time-honored tradition of annually commemorating the accomplishments of air and space pioneers of yesteryear. But this year, it ratcheted the event up a notch to honor those making history today.
During the International Aerospace Hall of Fame Gala held on Nov. 4, the museum presented its inaugural 21st Century of Flight Distinguished Achievement Awards to three space pioneers and visionaries who, like Wilbur and Orville Wright, had a vision that allowed many to travel higher and faster than ever before.
On Dec. 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, N.C., the Wright brothers made the world’s first manned aircraft flight with a 12-second flight, 100 feet above the sand dunes—inventing technology that defined the 20th century. On Oct. 4, 2004, 101 years later, SpaceShipOne, rocketed into history 328,000 feet above the sands of the Mojave Desert, becoming the first privately manned spacecraft. Claiming the $10 million Ansari X Prize, this new technology defined the dawn of the 21st century.
The Ansari X Prize is rooted in San Diego history, designed after the $25,000 Orteig Prize Charles Lindbergh won in his San Diego-built Spirit of St. Louis.
Three of the original Spirit of St. Louis craftsmen—T. Claude Ryan, H. Ed Morrow and John van der Linde—built the San Diego Air & Space Museum’s Spirit of St. Louis, the world’s only flying replica of the original. After extensive preservation work that followed its August 2003 flight commemorating Lindbergh Field’s 75th anniversary, the Spirit of St. Louis replica returned the same evening as the gala, to its place of honor in the museum’s rotunda.
The three aerospace titans of innovation who are the museum’s first recipients of the 21st Century of Flight Distinguished Achievement Awards are Burt Rutan, designer of SpaceShipOne; Dr. Peter Diamandis, CEO of the Ansari X Prize and founder, chairman and CEO of the Zero-G Corporation; and Paul G. Allen, investor and philanthropist, who financed SpaceShipOne.
Rutan served as the evening’s keynote speaker. The event also paid homage to the “Golden Age of Commercial Flight,” by honoring TWA’s Jack Frye, Russia’s Sergei Ilyushin and Pat Patterson of United Airlines. These men were the most recent laureates in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame, honored as 20th century history makers.
“We’re proud of our decades-long heritage of honoring the people that made history,” says Bill Lennartz, museum CEO and president. “But, we also need to focus on what’s happening in 21st century air and space history, because it’s constantly evolving.”
The museum’s International Aerospace Hall of Fame is the only Hall of Fame in the world solely dedicated to honoring great achievers in aviation and space exploration. The goal of the IAHF is to help inspire future generations of designers and builders, pioneers and pilots, leaders and scientists, who will push the frontiers of aviation and space.
At the event, California State Assemblyman Jay LaSuer announced the designation of the San Diego Air & Space Museum as California’s official air and space museum and education center. The museum, a nonprofit organization, also launched its Hall of Fame Scholarship to support future pioneers.
“We want to do our part to preserve America’s global lead in air and space technology by not only encouraging, but also supporting more of our young people to pursue careers in math, science and engineering,” Lennartz added.