Burt Rutan is widely regarded as one of the world's most important industrial designers, and his prolific contributions to air- and spacecraft design have driven the industry forward for decades. His two companies, Rutan Aircraft Factory and Scaled Composites, have developed and flight-tested more new types of aircraft than the rest of the US industry combined. He has himself designed hundreds of aircraft, including the famous Voyager, which his brother piloted on a record-breaking nine-day nonstop flight around the world.
Rutan might also be the person to make low-cost space tourism a reality: He's one of the major players promoting entrepreneurial approaches to space exploration, and his collaboration with Virgin Galactic is the most promising of these efforts. SpaceShipTwo, a collaboration between Richard Branson and Rutan completed its first "captive carry" in March of 2010, marking the beginning of the era of commercial space exploration.
Ever the maverick, Rutan is known for both his bold proclamations and his criticism of the aerospace industry. Witness the opening line of his presentation at TED2006: "Houston, we have a problem. We're entering a second generation of no progress in terms of human flight in space."