Black Sky

Over a year ago, I compiled a list of ten of my most wanted bucket list items. Thirteen months later and I haven’t yet checked any off. I have started on item number 5 though (which is to learn a second language). It’s going to take time – I think they all are. There are only three items that can be done in a day. The first two are: To see a Cubs game at Wrigley field and catch a marlin in New Zealand (but that doesn’t mean I’m going to catch one first time out). The third and most important one is the only item that can be done in less than an hour – And that one is go to space.

I’ve been fascinated with space and space travel since I was a kid and it’s strange to say that now because every time I think about space I feel like a kid again. The same can be said every time I get on a bicycle here in cycle-friendly Germany – I’m recapturing early memories in some small way and remembering what it was like cycling to and from school every day. But of course space holds a stronger fascination and scouring magazines and websites and tv documentaries just makes the idea of space travel more and more real. Even in light of the latest black incident in space travel – Going to space remains at the top of my list.

SpaceshipTwo - Lost on October 31st 2014.

SpaceshipTwo – Lost on October 31st 2014.

As of yesterday the investigation was launched into the crash of Spaceship Two. This is the aircraft that was until yesterday destined for the Virgin Galactic space program where celebs and others with the right fee would become the world’s first commercial astronauts. Having followed the story of Burt Rutan and his Scaled Composites enterprise for at least a decade, it is indeed a tragic time. In the early days of their mission to send tourists to space they seemed to overcome every obstacle that was thrown at them. Not only were they innovators but they had that necessary element that was on their side during development – Luck. There are many people out there that don’t believe in luck but in any given situation, luck pays its part in some way. On October 31st Scaled Composites were very unlucky.

From the footage released Spaceship Two appeared to break up not long after it initiated its burn. The co-pilot, Michael Alsbury was lost in the accident and somehow miraculously the pilot, Peter Siebold survived but with ‘serious’ injuries. The pilot is communicating which is pretty amazing but there are only so many details that have been released. I am sure that these test pilots know exactly what they are getting themselves in for when they go up but when accidents like this occur – everything is halted and grounded. There will be calls for the rational behind space tourism and it’s my hope that the answers will be the Kennedyesque paraphrasing – that “we choose to”.

While Scaled Composites has achieved a lot in a relatively small space of time I can’t help but think that their desire to go to space on a small budget and with a small organisation has hurt them here. Michael Alsbury was not only a test pilot but an engineer who worked on the aircraft. Peter Siebold is not only a test pilot but also an engineer who worked on the aircraft and was involved directly in refining the ships navigation system and the flight simulator. Burt Rutan is a designer, engineer and pilot. This small organisation loses big when they lose somebody because each person carries a large chunk of the companies intellectual property in their head. This is what will make it harder to recover but I hope they do. In the words of the worlds first commercial astronaut and self-proclaimed “high school drop-out”,

“Private enterprise can do things in many ways much more efficiently, … As small as we are and as little money as we had, we did amazing things.”   Mike Melvill

Keep Doing It!

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