Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Lack Of Imagination

In the HBO miniseries "From The Earth To The Moon" the episode "Apollo One" depicts the investigation into the deaths of  Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee and the loss of the Apollo capsule CSM-012.  They perished in a fire during a plugs out test on the launch pad.  In the episode, a Senator asks Astronaut Frank Borman what was the cause of the fire.  His answer was, "failure of imagination."  The idea was that nobody thought that the conditions of that particular test were dangerous.  They were all thinking of getting to the Moon.  NASA lost its innocence because of that incident.

Now we live in the wake of two commercial space disasters,  One commercial astronaut is dead.  One is wounded.  For all those who love space and commercial space, this is a time of pause.  One reusable space plane is destroyed.  One non-reusable rocket and cargo spacecraft with all of its cargo and research is also destroyed.  Accounting and insurance takes care of the rocket and the spacecraft.  The cargo must have had many customers with their hopes going to ISS.  Their projects may be insured but their hopes were dashed.

Many outside of the industry do not understand how these accidents happen.  There is a lot of anger out there on the net.  That's understandable.  There's a lot of fear and uncertainty.  That's also understandable.  Understand that these things affect everybody.  They affect all the CEO's of every space company to every kid who dreams about space and all the people and engineers in between,  We are all rattled even if we don't admit it.

Our innocence is gone.  Now, we will see how the space market reacts to it.  Investigations have to be completed.  They will find stuff that nobody may have suspected before.  Other stuff may be confirmed.  Plans will be made and implemented to avoid the same disasters.  These things must happen and will happen to move forward.  Moving forward is in the hands of the market.

Why are we doing this?  Why are we going to space at all?  Why did the crew of Apollo One and of VSS Enterprise die or get injured?  Why did Orbital Sciences Cygnus' customers loose their hopes?  Why did they even try?

They did it because they believe in a future that was better than this present one.  Space is out there.  We have been dabbling in low earth orbit for several decades trying to figure out how to proceed out in deeper space where higher radiation lives,  Out there where asteroids can be studied and mined and  where a moon can be settled.  Out there where a second planet can possibly hold life again (Mars).  Where we can study a dense atmosphere up close and figure out how to keep climate in check (Venus).

One of the biggest reasons is that life as we know it is a single point failure.  That means we know that if a big enough asteroid hits the planet it will wipe out all of life,  We know the size of the asteroid it would take to do it.  We know there are many asteroids much larger than such a size.  So in a real sense we are trying to save no just the human race of all of life from certain extinction.  It's not a matter of if but a matter of when.

My condolences to the family of the Virgin Galactic astronaut who died.  I hope the injured astronaut makes a full recovery.  I sincerely hope Virgin Galactic and Orbital Sciences are able to carry on with their programs.

Space programs should continue.  We must renew our hope in space.  We owe it to those who have perished and to our children and their children.  We must imagine again.

Remember the fallen:  Apollo 1, Challenger OV-099 STS-51-L, Columbia OV-102 STS-107, VSS Enterprise 4th rocket powered test flight.

PS I call the pilots astronauts as a way to honor them.