April 2012 issue of Popular MechanicsI got the assignment in December, soon after Paul Allen and Burt Rutan announced their intention to create the world’s largest aircraft with the eventual goal of launching up to six astronauts into orbit.

I was on an unplugged vacation with the family in the Caribbean (our first-ever there) when the announcement came. I’d gotten wind that something was up between these two mavericks of innovation before I left the country, but not exactly what. That I found out while waiting for my luggage at JFK airport. I thought I’d missed all the action, that it was too late for me to write up this plum of a story in depth. I needn’t have worried.

I was back in the air just a couple of weeks later, heading to Mojave for interviews with engineers and managers at Scaled Composites, where the airplane is being built, and to Los Angeles to meet with the folks at SpaceX, building the rocket it will launch.

The result is my April 2012 cover story for Popular Mechanics, on sale now.

If successful, Stratolaunch will bring a new capability to the field of human space flight: the potential to reach any orbital destination any time from just about anywhere. It’s not clear whether there will be a need for this capability when the system is due to be completed, by 2020. But true visionaries often find themselves aiming well ahead of the innovation curve, where great reward as well as great risk awaits.