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Burt Rutan joins up again with Paul Allen in new space launch venture

The big gathering Tuesday in Seattle was the reunion of two big shots in the dawning era of aerospace travel: billionaire Paul Allen and spacecraft designer Burt Rutan, who now hails from Coeur d’Alene.

Rutan, the renowned engineer who built the first commercially successful spacecraft, was at the side of the former Microsoft co-founder to launch their joint space venture, Stratolaunch Systems.

Stratolaunch hopes to become a successful aircraft-assisted launch company taking humans and payloads into orbit. Its first test flights won’t start until 2016. For a full overview of the new venture, here's Alan Boyle's report for MSNBC.com.

Rutan retired in April from his company Scaled Composites. He and his wife Tonya moved to Coeur d’Alene and say they have no plans to leave.

In an email, Rutan wrote that he'll serve as a Stratolaunch board member and adviser.

With funding from Allen, Rutan’s engineers at Scaled Composites designed SpaceShipOne, which won a $10 million prize in 2004 for being the first privately built and privately funded manned craft to reach space.

Rutan’s earlier accomplishments included developing the narrow-winged Voyager aircraft, which became in 1986 the first plane to fly around the world nonstop without refueling.

The couple lived in dry Mojave, Calif., for more than 25 years, where Scaled Composites is based.

As he prepared to retire, Rutan and Tonya drove across the West and looked at cities where they might retire.

“We looked at a lot of cities,” said Tonya Rutan.

When they went back to Mojave, they realized Coeur d’Alene was the city that made the biggest impression on them.

“It’s a charming city. And to us, it’s not small. It’s a big city to us, because we’re from a town of 3,000 people,” she said.

Photo shows Mike Griffin, Stratolaunch CEO, with Burt Rutan and Paul Allen. (Credit: Elaine Thompson / AP)