San Jose Programmer To Escape It All Into Suborbital Space - InformationWeek

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9/15/2005
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San Jose Programmer To Escape It All Into Suborbital Space

Stryker Corp. developer wins out-of-this-world trip in Oracle contest.

Have you ever been struggling with writing code at the keyboard and wished instead that you were flying at the fringes of space in an advanced, Burt Rutan aircraft?

Brian Emmett, a Java programmer and aerospace enthusiast in San Jose, Calif., has felt that way many times. Sometime over the next three years, he's going to get his wish. Emmett was selected by Oracle from more than 10,000 programmers who entered its contest to join Rutan's next bid for suborbital flight.

"I don't ever win stuff, even when I'm in a casino," says Emmett, 30, who adds that he enters few contests.

Rutan is the designer behind Scaled Composites LLC's delta-winged SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million Ansari X Prize for reaching an altitude of 62 miles twice last October. Sixty-two miles high is equivalent to 328,000 feet. Most airliners fly between 27,000 and 33,000 feet.

Emmett is a senior software developer at Stryker Corp.'s endoscopy division, which produces video cameras for minimally invasive surgeries. Emmett said a suborbital flight will leave him breathless as well as weightless at an altitude where he will see both stars and the distinct curvature of the Earth's surface. His employer "is very excited about the whole thing," he adds.

He entered Oracle's contest because he's always been a fan of space flight. He watched NASA space shuttle launches at the Kennedy Center in Florida as a youth and attended NASA's Space Camp for eighth-graders in Huntsville, Ala., where he took a ride in a centrifuge to experience the effects of "G force" acceleration and put on a space suit.

Emmett says he's a user of Oracle's JDeveloper development tool but says he is "tool agnostic--any tool as long as it gets the job done." He uses IBM's WebSphere Application Developer and Sun Microsystems' NetBeans also.

"If I knew anything about fluid dynamics and composite materials, I'd be working for Burt Rutan," he says.

Rutan is working on SpaceShipTwo, which may be the craft that takes Emmett aloft. Although Oracle says Emmett was randomly selected, it noted the winner must survive fitness screening by Space Adventures and will have to sign a waiver of responsibility in case he suffers any ill effects from the flight. Emmett is a hiking and mountain-biking enthusiast as well as a space hobbyist.

After last year's successful flight of SpaceShipOne, Rutan formed a new firm, The Space Ship Co., in July with Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines, in order to produce suborbital aircraft. Emmett's flight is being offered through another company, Space Adventures Ltd. Investors in Space Adventures include Rutan's Scaled Composites, NASA, the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, and the X Prize Foundation.

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's firm, Mojave Aerospace Co., designed the White Knight Two rocket system that powered SpaceShipOne and is likely to be a component of SpaceShipTwo.

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