crashed in the desert yesterday, killing one of the two pilots and pushing back their plans to start offering flights to paying customers next spring.
exploded. So not a great week for commercial space flight.
Let me say that I have never personally understood the hype around commercial rocketry.
NASA has been hoping that switching to commercial launch companies would save money, and in the short term it has. These incidents make people wonder, though, if the money has been saved by reducing safety and whether that is sustainable in the long run. NASA also has vaguely grandiose ideas about sparking some kind of commercial space industry. But doing what? Except for communications satellites, what does any commercial entity need in space? The space industry has always been driven by the needs of governments (spy satellites, launching astronauts, etc.) and I don't see why or how that would change. Right now celebrities and billionaires are willing to pay huge sums for brief trips to space -- Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are said to hold $200,000 tickets for Virgin Galactic's first commercial flight -- but once that gets old, then what? Sure, people would pay big money for trips to the moon, but is that really a viable business model? I just don't get it; I don't see how there is enough money to be made in space to sustain capitalism there.
It feels to me like another libertarian fantasy -- if we can pry space out of the cold, clammy hands of government and turn loose individual initiative, something great will happen. I doubt it.