Friday, October 31, 2014

Losses.

I was hoping to be devoting this post to wishing everyone a happy Halloween.

I can't.

During a powered test flight Virgin Galactic lost SpaceShipTwo.

The full details aren't out yet, but the California Highway Patrol has reported that one of the pilots was killed and the other has "major injuries." (Please note that this is still at the "unconfirmed" level). The cause of the accident is unknown, but I'd bet a drink on it being related to this being the first live flight test of a new fuel mix and related engine design. Fortunately, the carrier plane, Virgin MotherShip Eve aka White Knight Two landed safely and appears to be undamaged.

Test pilots know the risks. But my thoughts still go out to the family and friends of the two pilots involved in the accident.

This one is hitting me. My brother-in-law, Andrew Pearson, works for the Virgin Galactic/Scaled Composites partnership in vehicle assembly - but he also has accident investigator experience and may be pulled in to work on this. He may have known the pilots and he certainly knew the ship, which now lies in pieces in the Mojave desert.

But at the same time I know we can't let this accident keep us from pushing the boundaries - of space and in other directions. As important as safety is, we have to let brave men and women take risks. We have to let test pilots do their job. We have to let astronauts go into space, knowing death is only the other side of a surprisingly thin shell or even a pressure suit. Ultimately, we have to accept that some of us will...and must...take the risk of leaving this world to travel to the Moon or to Mars, even if the trip is known to be one way.

We can't let fear bind our feet to the earth of this planet.

More than that, we can't let our fear clip anyone else's wings. We can't let our grief and sorrow turn into "Well, we can't let this happen again, so we have to stop."

We can't stop. We have to keep reaching out because that is our nature as somewhat crazy, entirely-too-curious apes.

Some people would like to say that if we were meant to fly we would have been given wings.

I say we were meant to fly. We were meant to climb to the top of the highest mountain and then look around and go "Wait. This isn't high enough. There's higher yet and higher beyond that."

And beyond all of that is the stars, and if human seed is ever to reach those stars...

...then we're going to have to keep blowing up prototypes.

Test pilots will have to keep risking their lives.

So this one is for the crew of Apollo 1, the crew of the Challenger, the crew of the Columbia, the crew of SpaceShipTwo and for every other person who has given their life in pursuit of the goal of the human expansion into space.

And it is for all astronauts, cosmonauts and test pilots who, every time they step into a vehicle, know it could be the last time, and because of who and what they are, they do it anyway.

Every one of you proves that we were meant to fly.