Spaceship Two Crashes on Test Flight

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This has been a wrenching week for space enthusiasts, and especially space entrepreneurs. I just read the heartbreaking news that Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two exploded during a powered test flight today, killing one of the two pilots and seriously injuring the other. (This follows the explosion, a few days ago, of Orbital Science’s Antares cargo rocket, on liftoff for the International Space Station.) Both were privately funded space ventures.

Spaceship Two, of course, was slated to carry paying passengers on brief excursions into space (suborbital, not orbital). It is the offspring of Spaceship One, which a few years ago won the Ansari X-Prize for being the first privately funded craft to reach space, and to turn around and do it again a short time later. Spaceship One was funded largely by Microsoft’s Paul Allen, while Spaceship Two is funded by Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic.
 

Spaceship Two after release from White Knight Two. LA Times photo
Spaceship Two explodes soon after. LA Times photo

What this means for the future of Spaceship Two is not yet clear. It was flying with a new fuel today from that used in previous test flights. Perhaps that caused the rocket engine to explode, or perhaps not; it’s too soon to know.

As we’ve heard more than once from those who know a lot more than I do, “Space is hard.” There will be accidents. My heart goes out to those hurt by this one, the pilots and their families and friends, and all of those associated with this venture. But I’m going to echo here a quote that my colleague Geoff Landis echoed from someone else on Facebook:

“It is not the critic who counts; nor the one who points out how the strong person stumbled, or where the doer of a deed could have done better.

The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; who does actually strive to do deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotion, spends oneself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at worst, if he or she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those timid spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

This is how I will remember Spaceship Two:

Spaceship Two during an earlier, successful test flight. LA Times photo

 

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