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Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Crashes in Mojave. One Pilot Dead. Rough Week For Commercial Spaceflight.

@aviationsafety@aviationsafetyOne pilot was killed and another was injured today in a crash during a test flight of Virgin Galactic's space tourism craft, SpaceShipTwo. SpaceShipTwo was lost. The jet that carried the ship aloft, WhiteKnightTwo, is fine. This was the 55th test flight for SpaceShipTwo and the 35th for WhiteKnightTwo.

Paired with the explosion of the NASA/Orbital Sciences Antares rocket on Tuesday, it's been a rough week for spaceflight.

Not to get all "Dubious News Hook Lets Me Confirm and Blog My Preexisting Views," but human deaths have a way of attracting the attention of regulators, and this point from Rand Simberg in Reason's February 2012 space-themed issue is worth keeping in mind: Risk is part of innovation, and we should let people continue to put their lives on the line if they do so with full understanding of those risks.

[Good space policy requires] smarter regulation to encourage entrepreneurship and accept risk. For instance, current law prevents the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Space Transportation (FAA-AST) from regulating the safety of passengers aboard spacecraft; it is constrained to regulating only those issues that affect uninvolved third parties.

The hand of the state has rested lightly on the space industry so far, thanks to that 2004 law, which imposed an eight-year moratorium on regulation. The view at the time was that until private space passenger vehicles actually took flight, the industry was too poorly understood to intelligently regulate. The moratorium is about to expire, and the House is willing to extend it to cover another eight years after flights begin. But the Senate is resisting the extension, demanding stricter regulation while simultaneously seeking to cut the budget of the FAA-AST. If the stalemate continues, the industry could wind up regulated out of existence before it even gets off the ground.

This FAA policy was hard won and may now be in jeopardy if politicians get in the mood to Do Something. 

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  • Clown Hunter||

    Damn.

    Just, damn.

  • db||

    Saw this on Avweb a few minutes ago.

  • An Innocent Man||

    If I were the suspicious type....

  • Juice||

    Who would gain from sabotage? And what would they gain?

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    You're right, it must be NASA.

  • Product Placement||

    Couldn't be NASA, the sabotage was successful.

  • Pro Libertate||

    It's terrible, of course, but it was a test flight. People are going to get hurt doing these things. And rockets exploding? Well, NASA knows all about blowing up rockets and spacecraft. Even with people in them.

  • Juice||

    Rockets are dangerous, news at 11.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Pretty much. The problem is that there are politicians that really want to crush anything happening outside of NASA and its traditional contractors. From both sides of the aisle.

  • Product Placement||

    They've done a damn good job of crushing everything inside of NASA too. We can't even get a man in orbit without help from the Russians.

  • ||

    This FAA policy was hard won and may now be in jeopardy if politicians get in the mood to Do Something.

    Well, there's an election coming up and usually space regulation is not an issue that is going to drive people to the polls. So as unfortunate as this accident is, it may have happened at a time when politicians are not interested in Doing Something, at least not about it.

  • Clown Hunter||

    space regulation is not an issue that is going to drive people to the polls

    Which just gives their cronyist Total State instincts free reign.

  • Plàya Manhattan.||

    Market failure. Nobody has ever died during a government space flight.

  • Almanian!||

    -1 Gus Grissom

  • The Other Kevin||

    -2 Space Shuttles

  • Almanian!||

    KAUSED BY EVUL KAPITALIST KOCHPORASHUNSZ SAVING A COUPLE PENNIES ON O RINGS AND STUFF!!!1!111!

    So, yeah - teh Market Failyoor

  • John Titor||

    Hang on, I'm busy filling Apollo 1's oxygen-rich environment with tons of flammable gear.

    We'll beat those Ruskies, I swear!

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Per aspera ad astra ("A rough road leads to the stars")

  • Tony||

    It is unrealistic to expect perfection from a new and risky spaceflight venture. I hope this tragedy does not discourage further advancement in private spaceflight.

  • Juice||

    Highly regulated private space flight, of course.

  • Almanian!||

    Common-sense regulations. Nobody could oppose those. Cause - common sense.

  • Juice||

    This sucks totally and completely, but I think it's better that it happened very early on during the testing phase and not way down the road during the "taking a dozen people at a time into space" phase.

  • Pro Libertate||

    A dozen rich and famous people. Can you imagine the complete freakout and regulatory nightmare that would happen if valuable celebrities died?

  • Drake||

    I'm imagining how I would react... I may be a bad person.

  • Pro Libertate||

    We'd probably ban manned spaceflight in response.

  • ||

    What if the statists got wind of the fact that the first flight has two seats reserved for the Koch brothers? I bet they would completely lay off regulations in the hope that Teh Evul would be blown up.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Then that should be a permanent possibility.

  • Almanian!||

    My thoughts exactly. "Oh shit, I'm glad they didn't go all Titanic and kill a bunch of passengers."

    Hopefully they'll stay after it and continue testing and improving.

  • Almanian!||

    Has Branson considered just buying a stairway to heaven?

    *runs away*

  • Steve G||

    Lost? It's right there in the picture!

  • OldMexican||

    Risk is part of innovation, and we should let people continue to put their lives on the line if they do so with full understanding of those risks.


    Just peruse a bit around Wikipedia and count the number of people killed while testing planes and spacecraft for the Government, and then ask some anti-capitalism nitwit why is the private sector held on a much higher standard than the government itself when it comes to risk-taking.

    Let us remember that when Orville Wright was showing his Flyer airplane at Fort Myers on September 3, 1908, with passenger Army Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge, the airplane had a malfunction and plunged on to the earth, killing Selfridge and severely wounding Orville. This happened despite the numerous times the Wrights had flown their machines and improved their flyability. Shit happens. But the Wrights achieved their feat with NO government backing of any kind.

    Let us also remember that the government sponsored project for the first heavier-than-air machine, designed by Samuel Pierpoint Langley, ended as an unmitigated disaster.

  • Raven Nation||

    then ask some anti-capitalism nitwit why is the private sector held on a much higher standard than the government itself when it comes to risk-taking.

    It always is (held to a higher standard). The first time someone dies as a result of Obamacare, you won't see people running out to say this proves the program doesn't work.

  • Agami||

    New slogan for Virgin Galactic :

    Virgin Galactic takes you straight to heaven !

    Rocket engins exploded in the past and will exsplode in future.
    There is no way to aviod such failures with such high pressures, temperatures and vibrations. Flying on rocket powered ships will always remain very risky.

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