Space

Space Space
 
The night in 1961 that Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, eight-year-old Paul stood on his front porch, squinting into the night sky trying to catch a glimpse of the capsule passing somewhere far above him. Like many others, he was a young boy captivated by the idea of space exploration. But 50 years later, what most interested Paul wasn’t getting to space himself, it was making space more accessible in ways that would fuel space innovation.  
Young Paul building and sketching spaceships and robots.
Paul's childhood sketches of spaceship designs.
 
Young Paul building and sketching spaceships and robots.
Paul's childhood sketches of spaceship designs.
Access to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) was costly, complex and difficult. That made it an unachievable goal, except for a very few. Paul was determined to change that. Because in the same way Microsoft helped put computing into the hands of millions, he believed expanding access to LEO held similar, revolutionary potential. Paul wasn’t drawn to space for personal gain or recognition. Instead, he wanted to create a pathway so others could achieve their own “firsts”; he believed access to space was fundamental for true visionaries to innovate and advance discoveries for the greater good of humanity.   
His earliest investment in space happened after a meeting with astronomer Carl Sagan, when he informed Paul that the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute was about to lose its funding. Along with other partners, Paul donated $1 million to keep the SETI Institute running. He then went on to invest in the world’s best SETI telescope when he underwrote the installation of the Allen Telescope Array, which opened its “ears” in 2007 to begin a methodical hunt for extra-terrestrial life.  
Allen Telescope Array at the SETI institute in Hat Creek, California.
 
Allen Telescope Array at the SETI institute in Hat Creek, California.
Paul wasn’t necessarily driven by the belief that the SETI array would speak to aliens (though, as a science fiction enthusiast, he found the possibility thrilling). Rather, he believed it could serve as a springboard to endless new discoveries as humanity embarked on a quest to access space in distant regions. “Though there are no guarantees that SETI will turn up any alien communication, the history of astronomy suggests that its new-generation technology may lead to unexpected discoveries,” he said. For Paul, space was something that, in order to be understood, needed to be explored using the latest technologies and a discovery-based mindset. 
But the greatest accomplishment of SpaceShipOne wasn’t prizes or broken records, it was the fact it proved Paul’s theory: Reaching space didn’t have to be a government venture and private spacecraft could indeed be safely launched to access LEO. Three months after its record-setting flight, the SpaceShipOne technology was licensed to Richard Branson who used it to develop his line of Virgin Atlantic SpaceShipTwo spacecraft, including VSS Unity 22 which sent Branson into space in 2021 (the same year Jeff Bezos also completed his sub-orbital flight).

SpaceShipOne never flew again, but it joined Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1 at the National Air and Space Museum — three milestones of flight featured together to inspire the next generation. A small part of SpaceShipOne was also placed inside the New Horizons robotic probe which is currently heading beyond the reaches of our solar system. 
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His quest to improve access to space began in 2004 when he teamed with famed aerospace engineer Burt Rutan to build and launch SpaceShipOne. This innovative, air-launched vehicle was the world’s first private spacecraft to carry an astronaut into sub-orbital space and, ultimately, won the Ansari X Prize. The objective to reach LEO was difficult and involved many calculated risks — these included a particularly scary landing during SpaceShipOne’s first flight attempt. But by accepting these risks the team accomplished a feat no one had previously and, in the process, may have changed the entire future of space access.

SpaceShipOne set many records the day it reached sub-orbital space. Its pilot, Mike Melvill, was the 433rd person to make it into space, and the first commercial pilot to do so. That earned him a pair of astronaut wings from NASA — no small accomplishment as a civilian. The ship was also the first-ever privately-built plane to exceed Mach 2.  
In his autobiography, Paul said he believed large-scale, orbital space tourism was possible within a decade. And, in the years since, we’ve seen that momentum gather. His final space achievement, and the one that pushed his vision for space accessibility even closer to becoming a reality, was the design, construction and historic flight of Stratolaunch. The carrier aircraft, which is powered by six 747 engines, features a wingspan the length of a football field. Stratolaunch was engineered to push the boundaries of airport-style mobile launch operations that will make access to space more convenient, affordable, and routine.
 
The craft was constructed to take off from a runway and reach the cruising altitude of a commercial airliner, but rather than transporting passengers, it’s designed to serve as a launch vehicle for satellites and other objects that need to reach space. This unique alternative provides a flexible option from more traditional, ground-launched rockets. Paul believed Stratolaunch also held promise for conducting other missions, including those that support wildlife conservation, monitor climate change, and patrol for illegal fishing.

In April 2019, Stratolaunch successfully achieved its first flight from Mojave Air & Space Port and secured Paul’s legacy as a pioneer in the field of accessible space exploration for many generations to come.  
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Allen Institutes
Science
Allen
Institutes
The Allen Institute and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence lead cutting-edge science and making groundbreaking discoveries in bioscience and artificial intelligence research.
Tech for Good
Science
Tech for
Good
Paul believed technology could be leveraged to protect our planet, wildlife, and resources, and improve the lives of people everywhere.
MoPOP
Creativity
MoPOP
 
The Museum of Pop Culture opened in 2000 and over the years evolved into a hands-on museum experience celebrating all forms of popular culture and creative expression.
Seattle Seahawks
Pacific Northwest
Seahawks
 
Paul purchased the Seattle Seahawks NFL franchise in 1997, and since then the team has gone on to make three Super Bowl appearances.
Microsoft
Futurist
Microsoft
 
Paul's name is, of course, synonymous with Microsoft, the company he co-founded with his friend Bill Gates, which changed the trajectory of modern computing.