It was a sad week for the burgeoning U.S. private space program.
First was the loss of the unmanned Antares supply rocket last Tuesday. It exploded just seconds after liftoff in Virginia, and 5,000 pounds of food, experiments, and supplies for the International Space Station went up with it. It was the third cargo mission to the ISS contracted by NASA.
A few days later, the Virgin Galactic Spaceship Two crashed during a test run in California’s Mojave Desert, killing the co-pilot. A malfunction took place shortly after it separated from White Knight Two, the rocket that hoists Space Ship Two to an altitude of 45,000 feet.
The food, supplies, and scientific experiments can easily be replaced. However, the losses would have been much greater if Spaceship Two had been filled with the first batch of space tourists. More than 600 people have already bought their tickets at around $200,000 a seat.
Because of the forced retirement of NASA’s shuttle program in 2011, the U.S. is totally dependent on the Russians to get our astronauts into space, and on private industry to get supplies to the ISS. It is what it is.
There will be long-term repercussions from both of these incidents, but that doesn’t mean we should discontinue our exploration efforts. Space is, and always will be, a very dangerous place.