At the same time I’m launching this website, the aerospace world had two major, public setbacks. First was the explosion of the Orbital Science Antares rocket on October 28, 2014. Then three days later, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo crashed, sadly killing the co-pilot Michael Alsbury and seriously injuring the pilot Peter Siebold. My thoughts of sympathy and regret go to everyone in these companies and their families.
If you are thinking about going into aerospace, or working toward it, these events might cause you to have second thoughts. Let’s reflect and consider the larger context and noble mission we are a part of.
Let’s also remember and admit to ourselves, rocket science ain’t easy! It isn’t supposed to be. We are pushing the envelope in many ways–of the laws of physics, of material science and technology, of our own human understanding. There are going to be times we fail. We want to design in safety and margins and safe-to-fail experiments first, as much as possible. But we also have to accept risks, uncertainties, and unknowns. When we have failures in aerospace, they can come in a spectacular and tragic fashion. This is the nature of our business and profession, because we are striving to do amazing, historic, epic things. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that it isn’t possible and it isn’t going to happen. We need to stay humble and sincere about that.
But let’s not kid ourselves that it isn’t worth it either. Imagine a world without affordable and plentiful air travel. Imagine a world without GPS–that’s really hard now!! We have a constellation of satellites to thank for that. Some day we humans will find it hard to imagine the time when we were limited to living on Earth…when we couldn’t go into outer space routinely and live there permanently. Reality must be respected to keep us humble and honest. Let’s stay humble about that. But let’s stay determined and ambitious too. We will reflect, learn, adapt, and press forward. Upward and onward!