Pioneering in any field can be a costly affair; the risk/reward challenge is always there. Whether it's a matter of time, money or sometimes even the lives of our fellow humans, most of the astonishing things we seem to take for granted today often have a high cost associated with them along the way to final acceptance and integration. On the more cutting-edge technologies like human space travel, it's more obvious because we are still at the beginning of this daunting pursuit, even after some 50 years of effort - and the physical danger is still very present.
The latest casualty occurred in Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two program, where a mid air explosion led to the death of one of the two person crew. SpaceShip Two is carried aloft by conventional means to an altitude of about 50,000 feet where it is released and then flies into orbit under it's own rocket power. The explosion reportedly occurred after it engaged it's own motor. The pilots ejected, but one died nonetheless.
SpaceShip Two is part of a continuing program to try to arrive at a dependable, reusable system to put people and goods into Earth orbit, and to do so in a commercially viable way. We will reach the destination no doubt, but as we have just seen, the road can be a long and harrowing one.
|Image from Flightglobal.com - click to enlarge|