Virgin’s crash tragic but inevitable
(My Clovis News Journal column for November 7, 2014)
Being a fan of spaceflight, especially manned spaceflight, I was saddened by the breakup and crash of Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo.
I hope the problems which caused the loss of the vehicle, and the death of her pilot, are quickly found and solved. Even in the shadow of this new disaster, I'd book passage on the first flight if I had the money.
The truth is unfortunate: tragedies and disasters are not only inevitable, they are necessary. It's how the technological chaff gets winnowed away. Each disaster makes the entire system better, and, as long as the bureaucratic inertia is manageable, shows those building the dream where the changes must be made. It would be great if these problems could be found and fixed some other way, but the evidence of technological history seems to show they can't.
Back in the days when the NASA space shuttles were just beginning to fly, I knew a fatal failure was inevitable and wondered whether the first would occur during a launch or a landing. My fear was that once it did happen, bureaucrats would lose their nerve. It happened, and they did. There will always be plenty of people who understand the risks and are willing to face them. Commercial spaceflight will expand, even if governments continue to erect barriers. Most people are simply more brave than politicians and bureaucrats can imagine.
It seems ridiculous that governmental agencies believe they are uniquely qualified to investigate accidents such as these. When a government spacecraft accident kills people, government investigates itself; when a private spacecraft accident kills people, government once again investigates. That's as silly as having government investigate wrongdoing by its own employees as well as by freelance bad guys. Oh, wait...
I prefer private space efforts over governmental ones, but whether any corporate project is truly "private", due to the nature of corporations and their relationship with the State, is debatable. Unless you can hide your project while in development, launch without warning, stay ahead of the obligatory military pursuit, and have an off-world destination so you won't need to come back into any government's claimed territory, I suppose government interference is unavoidable for now.
Once off-planet, the IRS won't be able to sniff out all the voluntary acts of commerce between consenting individuals, among the asteroids or beyond. It's called "Liberty"! That's part of the reason for the heavy-handed control being exerted. If government notices you, they will insinuate themselves into your business one way or another. Therefore I understand the concessions being made by the commercial space entrepreneurs, even as I wish they'd rebel. The future belongs to the free.