Commentary: Antares explosion will not derail commercialization of space race

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    This image taken from video provided by NASA TV shows Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned rocket blowing up over the launch complex at Wallops Island

    This image taken from video provided by NASA TV shows Orbital Sciences Corp.'s unmanned rocket blowing up over the launch complex at Wallops Island

    Former Astronaut Leroy Chiao is convinced that the future of space travel should be a for-profit endeavor.

    This commentary is from Leroy Chiao, a former NASA astronaut and International Space Station commander.

    It seems people only pay attention anymore when the rocket blows up.

    Within minutes of Tuesday’s Antares disaster, the major news organizations had picked up the story and began running live interviews with eyewitnesses and experts. We learned about all the experiments that were being transported to the International Space Station, including several student science projects.

    Had all gone as planned, though, the news of the launch and its cargo would have earned scant mention.

    In a way, we are victims of our own success. People have gotten so used to successful flights that nothing gets their attention anymore unless there is a mishap.

    And, maybe that’s OK.

    One day, spaceflight will advance to the point of being routine, not unlike air travel.

    We’ve come a long way since launching the early astronauts into space more than 50 years ago, but accidents like this serve as a reminder that, to date, space flight should NOT be taken for granted. By their nature, rockets are unforgiving, complex machines, which must work like Swiss watches to get into space.

    Although the Antares explosion was a significant mishap, we will get through this. The accident investigation team will determine the root cause. We will learn from it and build even more robust rockets in the future.

    Without a doubt, critics will arise and question why we’re entrusting commercial companies with cargo deliveries to the International Space Station. The answer is simple: It is the logical evolution of technology and commercialization, following the same path as the development of the airplane and commercial air transportation. There is plenty of government oversight of airline operations, as there is plenty of such oversight of commercial space operations through NASA and the FAA.

    This mishap is painful, but it is only a speed bump on the way to the commercialization of spaceflight.

    We will get there, and it will be soon. 

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