I was shocked and saddened to check the news on Friday night and learn that Richard Branson’s planned sub-orbital rocket plane SpaceShipTwo had crashed on a test flight, killing one of its pilots and injuring another. Obviously, this tragedy is going to be a major setback for Virgin Galactic’s plans to carry tourists to the edge of space.
And this was coming just a few days after an unmanned rocket launch to carry supplies to the International Space Station failed, sending the rocket falling back to the launchpad and exploding spectacularly.
Such incidents are very rare these days, especially compared to the early days of rocketry. Practically every launch – manned or unmanned – seems to go off without a hitch. There’s plenty of talk about the risk involved in spaceflight – with films such as Gravity to emphasise it – but far more often than not, everything still seems to work out.
Twice in this past week, it didn’t – and one person has died as a result, just as other people have died in the past.
It must never be forgotten that the risks are still real and still there. There is no easy way to get into space, and it’s a testament to the good work of so many intelligent people that getting there works out as often as it has.
If Virgin Galactic does still get off the ground, the people who have signed up for it must always be aware that there is risk involved – and the people whose job is to minimise those risks mustn’t get complacent. Too many space-farers or would-be space-farers have already died due to complacency.