Industry loses tech titan Paul G. Allen

Tech pioneer, aerospace innovator, philanthropist Paul Allen loses battle with cancer.
“It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of our founder Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft and noted technologist, philanthropist, community builder, conservationist, musician, and supporter of the arts,” Vulcan Inc. officials announced on behalf of the company, the Paul G. Allen network, and the Allen family. A celebrated technology pioneer credited with various aerospace innovations, Allen died on Monday afternoon, October 15, from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in Seattle at the age of 65.
The world continues to benefit from myriad innovations enabled by Paul G. Allen, who is perhaps best known for having co-founded Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975. Celebrated in the aerospace community, Allen founded Stratolaunch Systems and the Institute for Artificial Intelligence, among other institutes, and was the sole investor behind the SpaceShipOne commercial spacecraft. He is known for other achievements, businesses, investments, and considerable philanthropy, including donating more than $2 billion toward education, wildlife and environmental conservation, the arts, and other causes.

Paul G. Allen
Paul  Allen  pictured  in  2014.  Image courtesy  of  Vulcan  Inc.; photo  by  Beatrice  de  Gea. 
Inspired by original space heroes like John Glenn and Alan Shepard, Allen grew up hoping to one day be an astronaut himself. That early fascination with the new frontier inspired Paul’s significant investments in space flight later in life.

Allen and Vulcan played a key role in forging the new commercial space transportation industry with the investment in SpaceShipOne. The project is considered one of the greatest breakthroughs in the space industry, winning the Ansari X-Prize in 2004. Today, SpaceShipOne is displayed in the Milestones of Flight in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, next to the Wright Flyer, the Spirit of St Louis, and the Bell X-1. The success of SpaceShipOne was followed by the emergence of entrepreneurial and private space companies that are now providers within the industry.  But today, low Earth orbit remains a domain of the few, and the barrier to entry is too high.

Founded in 2011 by Allen, Stratolaunch Systems Corp. is focused on safeguarding Planet Earth for future generations by enabling convenient, affordable, routine, airline-style access to space that empowers the world’s problem solvers, so that they can collect rich and actionable data and drive advancements in science, research, and technology from space.

Sixty-two miles above Earth, the view is like none other. It’s a sight that very few have enjoyed, and those who have seen it have done so with the help of a government agency. On June 21, 2004, a giant leap forward was made toward the realization of space travel for civilians; SpaceShipOne achieved spaceflight and became the first privately-built craft to enter suborbital space.
SpaceShipOne began as a conversation between two pioneers in their respective fields: Burt Rutan, the renowned aerospace engineer, and Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft. In 1996, the same year that the Ansari X Prize was announced, Allen flew to Mojave, Calif., to discuss Rutan’s plan for a supersonic jet that would fly above the atmosphere. But Allen had his sights set even higher. Two years later, Rutan flew to Seattle to propose a new idea to Allen: a manned rocket flight into suborbital space. If the idea came to fruition, it would win the inaugural Ansari X Prize.
By 1999, Rutan had conceived of the right design for the task -- a plane that would be ferried to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere by a carrier craft, blasting off from that point into space. In 2000, the partnership that would build SpaceShipOne was born. Over the next few years, Burt Rutan and his team at Scaled Composites built the spacecraft. In 2003, SpaceShipOne had its first test flight, and, by 2004, it was ready to make history.
spaceshiponeIn June of that year, SpaceShipOne became the first privately-funded craft in space, but to win the Ansari X Prize, it had to achieve spaceflight twice in five days. It accomplished that goal a few months later when the craft, piloted by Michael Melvill on Sept. 29 and Brian Binnie on Oct. 4, successfully claimed the $10 million Ansari X Prize.
Following that milestone, Richard Branson licensed the technology for Virgin Galactic with the goal of shuttling civilians to space, sparking the beginning of an exciting new industry: commercial space travel.
The Allen Institute of Artificial Intelligence is exploring the critical questions and exciting possibilities in the field of AI, including opportunities to help computers acquire knowledge and reason. Read more from SAE International on automation and AI.
Vulcan Capital, the investment arm of Vulcan, is working to identify potential investments in the commercial space sector. Announced in March 2015, Spaceflight Industries secured $20 million in Series B funding co-led by RRE Venture Capital and Vulcan Capital with additional investment from Razor’s Edge Ventures. Spaceflight Industries is a next-generation, integrated space products and services company aimed at transforming the use of space.
Statement from Paul G. Allen’s family
This is a time of profound loss for Mr. Allen’s family. On their behalf, Paul’s sister, Ms. Jody Allen, has released the following statement. 

“My brother was a remarkable individual on every level. While most knew Paul Allen as a technologist and philanthropist, for us he was a much-loved brother and uncle, and an exceptional friend.  
“Paul’s family and friends were blessed to experience his wit, warmth, his generosity and deep concern. For all the demands on his schedule, there was always time for family and friends. At this time of loss and grief for us – and so many others – we are profoundly grateful for the care and concern he demonstrated every day.” 

Paul Allen
Statement on behalf of Vulcan Inc. and the Paul G. Allen Network
Speaking on behalf of Vulcan Inc., the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers, Stratolaunch Systems, the Allen Institute, and the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, Vulcan CEO Bill Hilf released this statement.
“All of us who had the honor of working with Paul feel inexpressible loss today. He possessed a remarkable intellect and a passion to solve some of the world’s most difficult problems, with the conviction that creative thinking and new approaches could make profound and lasting impact.
"Millions of people were touched by his generosity, his persistence in pursuit of a better world, and his drive to accomplish as much as he could with the time and resources at his disposal.
“Paul’s life was diverse and lived with gusto. It reflected his myriad interests in technology, music and the arts, biosciences and artificial intelligence, conservation and in the power of shared experience – in a stadium or a neighborhood – to transform individual lives and whole communities. 
“Paul loved Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. The impact of Paul’s efforts can be seen here at every turn. But the true impact of his vision and generosity is evident around the globe. 
Paul thoughtfully addressed how the many institutions he founded and supported would continue after he was no longer able to lead them. This isn’t the time to deal in those specifics as we focus on Paul’s family. We will continue to work on furthering Paul’s mission and the projects he entrusted to us. There are no changes imminent for Vulcan, the teams, the research institutes or museums.
“Today we mourn our boss, mentor and friend whose 65 years were too short – and acknowledge the honor it has been to work alongside someone whose life transformed the world.”
Paul G. Allen timeline
1953: Paul Allen is born January 21, 1953 in Seattle, Washington
1968: While at Lakeside School, Paul meets Bill Gates. A friendship that would later produce one of the world’s most innovative companies, Microsoft.
1969: Attends first rock concert, where he sees Jimi Hendrix at Seattle Center Coliseum
1975: Founds Microsoft 
1982: In September, Paul is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Nearly eight months later, doctors said he had beaten the disease.
1983: Officially resigns from Microsoft in March
1986: Founds Vulcan Inc. in Seattle as an investment and project management firm with his sister, Jody Allen
1988: Establishes The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation
1988: Purchases the Portland Trail Blazers
1988: Rescues Seattle Cinerama from demolition by purchasing and restoring the theater
1990: The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation makes its first grant.
1990: Becomes a billionaire at age 37
1995: Makes his single biggest investment to date by purchasing a 18.5% stake in Dreamworks
1996: Purchases the St. Paul’s Hospital in London, which would reopen later after renovations as The Hospital Club
1997: Creates Vulcan Productions, an independent film production company
1997: Purchases the Seattle Seahawks, preventing the NFL team from relocating to California
2002: Donates $14 million to the University of Washington to construct the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science and Engineering
2003: Launches the Allen Institute for Brain Science (AIBS) with $100 million in seed money
2004: SpaceShipOne becomes the first privately-based effort to successfully put a civilian in suborbital space, winning the Ansari X Prize
2004: Opens the Flying Heritage Collection, a private collection of warbirds, in Arlington, Washington
2008: Lifetime philanthropic giving reaches $1 billion in total
2009: Becomes a minority owner in Seattle Sounders, the MLS team
2011: Releases memoir “Idea Man”
2011: Announces the launch of Stratolaunch Systems. The venture’s goal is to create an air launch to orbit system
2012: Opens the Living Computer Museum, an interactive collection of vintage mainframes and machines, to the public in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood
2013: Announces expansion of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, aiming to model it after the Brain Science Institute
2014: Seattle Seahawks win the Super Bowl over the Denver Broncos
2014: Pledges $100 million to support efforts to stop Ebola outbreak in West Africa
2014: Founds the Allen Institute for Cell Science 
2017: Locates the wreck of the USS Indianapolis
2018: Dies on Oct. 15 in Seattle of complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Read more stories about the remarkable things that Paul Allen enabled at

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Courtney E. Howard is editorial director and content strategist at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group. Contact her by e-mail at

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