"Space is hard, " the saying goes. It's the default line trotted out anytime there is a rocket launch failure. On Sunday, when a SpaceX rocket exploded on the way to the International Space Station, that phrase was repeated over and over.
"Space flight's not easy, as we've described before, and I think this points out the difficulty of and the challenges we face in spaceflight, " Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA, said Sunday.
SpaceX, however, had been making space look easy for the last few years. This failure is a stark reminder that the country’s most exciting space company may need to pump the brakes on some of its more ambitious projects.
"There's never really a good time for a rocket to blow up, I guess. But, yeah, this one is pretty bad"
The company has successfully resupplied the International Space Station six times before. Its Falcon 9 rocket has flown 18 consecutive successful missions before Sunday's disaster. The big challenge Sunday was supposed to be landing the rocket on a drone ship; that the mission to resupply the ISS for a seventh time might fail altogether was never mentioned.
The problem is, everything SpaceX wants to do demands that space become something other than "difficult."
When your plan is to reuse rockets, launch an array of internet-providing satellites, and eventually send regular missions to Mars, space cannot remain "hard." "Easy" is probably not the right word, but perhaps "routine" is.
Now we're left wondering what this failure means for the future of one of America's most exciting companies.
Over the last few months, SpaceX printed Martian travel posters, announced side projects to build a hyperloop and space internet served by satellites, sparred with rivals in front of Congressional panels, and said that "no one laughs" anymore when the company talks about settling Mars. Today, it's solemnly discussing second-stage pressurization issues and trying to, quite literally, pick up the pieces of its rocket scattered throughout the Atlantic Ocean.
SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said Sunday that the company doesn’t expect the failure to drastically alter any of its plans. SpaceX will still fly astronauts to the International Space Station in 2017, she said. Earlier this month, the company got certified by the Air Force to launch military rockets, and Shotwell doesn’t expect this failure to jeopardize those missions, either.
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