SpaceX’s Saturday Failure Could Mean Big Delays

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Something Very Bad Happened On Saturday…

…but neither SpaceX nor NASA are willing to come out and say exactly what happened.  They refer to the testing failure of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule on Saturday as an “anomaly.”  Unfortunately, the anomaly could spell big delays for NASA.  Both LiveScience.com and Florida Today reported on the incident.  However, officials have not been willing to go into specifics about the exact nature of the accident.  This was a static, unmanned test, so the only loss was in terms of equipment, which is great news. The not-so-great news is the failure could spell doom for NASA’s timeline to use commercial spacecraft to get to the ISS and for other missions.  Since NASA retired the space shuttle program in 2011, we’ve hitched (bought) rides from the Russians.  Let that one marinade for a while… and while you do, watch this so you don’t start crying.  

What We Do Know:

  • The Crew Dragon capsule was the same one that successfully docked with the ISS and returned to Earth just weeks ago.
  • SpaceX designed the test to try out the rocket systems that maneuver the vehicle in space and serve as an emergency ejection system.
  • Florida Today reported plumes of smoke coming from Cape Canaveral that could be seen from miles away. 
  • NASA has already announced that it plans to purchase two tickets on the next Russian mission, planned for next spring.
  • Boeing’s commercial spacecraft, the Starliner, hasn’t flown yet.  However, NASA has exercised an option in its contract with the aerospace manufacturer to extend manned missions.  Should successful test flights take place in November as planned, we may yet see a test this year.  (Full disclosure – as a native Washingtonian, I’m pulling for the Seattle-based company)

More: SpaceX Crew Dragon accident clouds outlook for domestic astronaut launches

The Good News in All of This

While both SpaceX and NASA are being sketchy with details at this point, at least they are committed to the safety of the crew over mission timelines.  Space exploration is an inherently dangerous business, but this isn’t the 1960’s anymore.  We’re not trying to beat anyone this time.  In fact, we’re cooperating with our former competitors now – bumming rides off of them, raiding the fridge for Mountain Dew and liquor, and taking showers that use up all of the hot water.

The point is, there’s not really a rush – unless hitching rides to space from a country that tried to tamper in our election bothers you.  And even then, is it worth risking the lives of real people just so we can stop doing it that way?  Maybe.  I don’t know.  All of that is another story and it remains to be seen.  For now, though, all parties in the commercial space flight partnership are focusing more on crew safety than they are on mission deadlines, and that’s important.  

Let’s Look to RPG Gaming for the Reason Why

Anyone with their finger on the gaming community pulse knows that memes abound this year concerning the tragic releases of some of the top studios.  Studios like Bethesda, EA, and others feel the wrath of frustrated gamers with each new release.  And many of the critics of these studios claim that a big reason for their woes is the rush to beat the competition.

However, in the midst of some of the biggest disappointments coming from some of the largest gaming companies, there’s CD Projekt Red, whose philosophy mirrors that of SpaceX’s, Boeing’s, and NASA’s, when it comes to deadlines: It’ll be out when it’s ready.

This is so important.  Of course it’s important for gaming or any other creative endeavor in which a complex story is being told, but it’s also important for science.  As we discussed in my spacewalk article a couple of weeks ago, space is an extremely harsh environment, and it only takes a tiny incident to turn into a complete disaster.

The Importance of Getting It Right

In fact, in a statement, SpaceX said of the incident “The initial tests completed successfully but the final test resulted in an anomaly on the test stand.”  This catastrophic failure is a stark reminder of the dangers of spaceflight, and the reason for these tests.  Both NASA and SpaceX officials indicated as much in their statements to the press earlier this week.  

NASA and SpaceX officials planned on manned-testing of the capsule as early as July, but that seems unlikely now.  Boeing is still looking at November for their earliest manned-test of the Starliner.  

In the wake of the accident, both NASA and SpaceX reiterated the fact that no human lives were lost, and that they are committed to finding the root cause of the “anomaly” so that future missions can go forward safely and effectively.

More: SpaceX’s New Launch: Commercial Space Flight is That Much Closer!

For the Near Future…

…it appears there is a possibility that we will have to bum another ride to the ISS next year.  NASA seems to be okay with that, though it will restrict the number of scientists they can send.  Ultimately, the sooner we can get our own commercial spacecraft safe and operational, though, the sooner we can get the most out of our investment in the ISS and these public-private partnerships. 

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