《财富》杂志联系上美国宇航局（NASA）前宇航员、XCOR宇航公司（XCOR Aerospace）现首席试飞员理查德•希尔福斯时，他正从位于加州德哈查比的家中赶赴爱达荷州的圣诞家庭聚会。驾车的是希尔福斯的妻子，这辆丰田汉兰达（Toyota Highlander）以波澜不惊的70英里时速向前行进（道路限速是75英里/小时）。现年56岁的希尔福斯是这样说的：“我早已不再追求那种肾上腺素奔涌的生活了。”
When Fortune caught up with former NASA astronaut Richard Searfoss, the chief test pilot for XCOR Aerospace, he was traveling from his Tehachapi, California base to a Christmas family gathering in Idaho. His wife was behind the wheel, piloting their Toyota Highlander at a distinctly pedestrian 70 miles per hour (the speed limit was 75). As Searfoss, now 56, put it: "I'm long past living for adrenaline rushes."
Even so, Searfoss is eager to get back into space, this time at the helm of XCOR's Lynx, a reusable private spaceship that will take off and land more like a commercial airliner than a rocket. "I look at this as maybe the swan song of my career," says Searfoss. "It's not about kicking the tires, lighting the fires, at this point in my life. The raw excitement is much less of a motivator than doing something right."
Searfoss has worked with XCOR since 2005, helping develop its budget-conscious design for suborbital travel. "There are some people who are very sharp technically, and some who can't put up more than a website about what their dreams are—the promoters and the P.T. Barnums," Searfoss says. "I've decided to stay with the real technical players. "
It's a dramatic contrast from NASA, he continues, where he piloted two Space Shuttle missions and commanded a third. There, spaceships were completely refurbished between flights, and flew only a few times a year. Financial constraints weren't an issue for the agency or its contractors, Searfoss recalls: "Business model? Who needs a business model? We work for the government." XCOR, by contrast, has spent much of its existence living hand to mouth, designing a ship that will allow it to operate like a space version of Southwest Airlines.
"We want to make rocket-vehicle operations much more like airplane operations: turn it around, refuel it, and go again," says Searfoss. "It fits very nicely with the suborbital problem. You don't need that ragged performance envelope." Another plus for Searfoss: "Their concept of suborbital space involves an organic flight computer—a human being—at the controls."
After 14 years in business, notes Searfoss, XCOR has "moved beyond the shoestring operation. We were a month or two from having to shut the doors during some lean times. It's great when you've got someone like Branson, who's got a lot of money to play with. But his isn't the only recipe for success. There's so much that's not money-driven, it's long-term technology-driven."