I am extremely optimistic about Space. This week however we have had two tragedies. CNN has reporting about a recent rocket crash: Teams investigate failure of unmanned rocket off Virginia coast. NBC has detailed coverage of the Virgin Galactic’s test flight which ended with loss of life. I remember the day I saw the Space Shuttle Challenger on TV. I was too young to process what actually happened that day but documentaries and news segments years later would clarify why I saw such a decline in the activities of NASA. You see, when I was younger, I was personally exposed to the artifacts of the Space Age on trips to Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, AL as well as the Kennedy Space Center much further south. I really enjoyed those trips as well as the myriad movies of my upbringing including SpaceCamp and a host of others. As time moved on, I began to see Space differently.
Let’s be blunt. The reality of Space is not romantic, transcendent, or a simple matter of science. Space can be a hard and devastating environment for people, plants, and animals. We are not physically designed for Space. We need technology and well thought out procedures and personal tenacity and resilience to make Space work.
One wrong step can be catastrophic with Space operations. Getting to Space is hard with huge risk currently; staying in Space may be even harder. Dealing with Space will be all about the right approach, being exceedingly careful, and being ready with all manner of contingency responses.
This is a moment to take measures to be far more sure of our technology, science, cultural imperatives, and motivations for encountering Space. I do think that society needs to find its way to Space eventually. Over population could be a huge driver. As well, there are new materials we can harvest in Space to improve the things we build. Experiments with chemicals as well as production of new medicines and treatments could improve health as well as materials science. The potential is huge in terms of what can be accomplished if we properly and appropriately harness Space.
It is good that we have companies operating much in the pioneering spirit in terms of getting to Space and making it work. While my generation may not see the stars, it is in the cards for the future. We should take stock of the situation, think about the role unmanned testing can play in getting more things right without the risk to life. The eager passion to make dreams come true is a worthy place to start but unlike routers, computers, and code, the stakes are higher when people are at the wheel. It is a time to bring back a measure of prudence that will see us make progress with greater confidence.