Virgin Galactic had a terrible accident on Friday, October 31. One pilot was lost and another seriously injured. Many people in the media are asking if this is the end of commercial spaceflight from Virgin Galactic. Experts are telling us what might have happened and all the challenges that have to be overcome if we want to see commercial spaceflight. Space entrepreneurs continue to weigh the risks and move ahead.
I hope all the critics are wrong, but there will be little attention paid to what flight investigators discover. It’s big news when an accident happens; not so big when the truth is uncovered. I’m sure the Galactic team and Richard Branson will wait to make their decision until all the facts become clear. Entrepreneurs are used to making critical decisions for their teams and their families.
Several key news anchors opined that space travel can be only handled by large government bureaucracies. I’m not sure I agree with that conclusion, I believe commercial space travel will be conquered by entrepreneurs. As always, we look at the technical aspects of the flight and not the spirit of adventure it takes to be an entrepreneur or a test pilot. In today’s changing business environment, it takes someone with the right stuff to make this work. Actually, I think one benefit we might see out of this tragedy is that many of the several hundred space companies across the globe may develop a better understanding of what is going on across the many different platforms to help us reach commercial space on a regular basis.
Now what about the crew member who was lost? I mourn the loss of co-pilot Michael Alsbury and the injuries to pilot Peter Siebold. Every life is precious to me. Having known several astronauts and test pilots in my lifetime, it’s important to understand that they fly because they love flight. They live for the adventure and doing things that are thought impossible by others. Many are also successful entrepreneurs who thrive in highly charged, pressure filled environments. They have the right stuff to change the way we live in the world.
One of my friends was a former astronaut and test pilot who lost his life in a test flight. When I got the call, I was broken up. He was one of the people who taught me the value of creativity in flight engineers and pilots. I didn’t believe it until a former engineer on my team pointed out he would probably rather die in a flight that pushed the envelope for mankind than being stuck behind a desk somewhere going through the motions.
The more I thought about my friend, the more I realized he could have retired after leading several shuttle missions. No one would blame him, but he enjoyed flying and testing planes too much to retire. He spent over 8000 hours flying and was always looking for ways to spend more time in the cockpit. He loved flight almost as much as his wife and children, and that says a lot.
How do we honor these brave men and women who help push the envelope to provide all of us with new opportunities? I say we support the pilots, their teams, and the entrepreneurs who have the vision to reach for the stars. God bless you and your families as you continue to expand the possibilities and touch the Face of God. You will not be forgotten. Thank you for all you do to help us grow and reach for the stars.