The explosion of Virgin Galactic’s passenger rocket is stirring up mixed emotions as scientists and others involved in the space industry wait for more details on what happened over the Mojave Desert on Friday.
While several people expressed sadness that one pilot was killed and another was seriously injured, many also said they understand the risks that come with pushing the boundaries that have hampered the burgeoning commercial space travel industry.
Here is some of the reaction to the crash:
Former NASA top space scientist Alan Stern has seats to fly on Virgin Galactic and its competitor XCOR aerospace. He isn’t rethinking plans to fly in space at all.
“Let’s not be Chicken Littles here,” said Stern, now a vice president at Southwest Research Institute. “The birth of aviation was also a very dangerous time period.”
“All forms of transportation carry risk,” he said. “To expect spaceflight could somehow be different is unrealistic on the part of the public or anyone. Secondly to do something very hard, to do something on the frontier, comes with risk.”
Eric Stallmer, the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, offered his sympathies to the families affected by the explosion.
“Today, we are tragically reminded of the tremendous challenges that we face every day in our efforts to push the envelope of human experience and capability in space enterprise and exploration,” he said.
Stallmer and Bill Nye, chief executive of the Planetary Society, said the courage of both pilots and the commitment Virgin Galactic has made to space tourism will serve as inspiration as the industry continues to make space travel as safe and reliable as possible.
Former NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger, who nearly died in a 1997 fire aboard the Russian space station Mir, said when he first met British billionaire Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, he told him the first thing he’d have to worry about is liability insurance.
“You will have setbacks,” Linenger said he told Branson. “That is a reality.”
In New Mexico, from where Virgin Galactic planned to launch its tourism rockets within the next year, hearts were sinking Friday. The New Mexico Spaceport Authority issued a statement saying it was sending its thoughts and prayers out to the crew’s family members and the team that has been working for years to develop the rocket.
“We will continue to work with and lend our support to Virgin Galactic through this tragedy and in the coming months as we move forward,” the authority said.