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Space

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Crashes 445

Fallen Kell writes: Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo has crashed. "'During the test. the vehicle suffered a serious anomaly resulting in the loss of the vehicle,' the company said in a statement. "The WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft landed safely. Our first concern is the status of the pilots, which is unknown at this time.'"" ABC says one person is dead, and another injured. This was the craft's fourth powered test flight, and its first since January.
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Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Crashes

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  • Not a good week... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Enigma2175 ( 179646 ) on Friday October 31, 2014 @02:13PM (#48281935) Homepage Journal

    Wow, with the Orbital Sciences launch failure and now this, it is really turning into a bad week for privately funded spaceflight.

    • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Friday October 31, 2014 @02:14PM (#48281937)
      Sadness for the casualties and their families.

      We can't forget that space flight is a challenging, dangerous, risky affair for private industry as well as governments. It will be interesting to see how the private side deals with these setbacks.
      • by CauseBy ( 3029989 ) on Friday October 31, 2014 @02:27PM (#48282119)

        That's right. People risk their lives to do adventures like this because it's worth it. Some of them become martyrs for the knowledge needed to achieve the goal. It's still sad and we are still right to ask if we could have done better, and how we can do better now.

        • That's right. People risk their lives to do adventures like this because it's worth it.

          This is spaceflight in definition only. It's nowhere near orbit. It's not even useful as a suborbital transportation system. If you want to perform tests in rarefied atmosphere or vacuum, sounding rockets are vastly cheaper and offer better performance. This exists for tourism, for people who want a few minutes of weightlessness all at once, rather than a several arches in a "vomit comet" a dozen seconds at a time, and for people who want to claim they technically went to space, even though most people

    • by halivar ( 535827 )

      This sounds callous, but progress is not without required risk. I hope Virgin Galactic continues the good work of private spaceflight that will be essential to continued advances in space exploration.

      • by PsychoSlashDot ( 207849 ) on Friday October 31, 2014 @02:19PM (#48282009)

        This sounds callous, but progress is not without required risk. I hope Virgin Galactic continues the good work of private spaceflight that will be essential to continued advances in space exploration.

        Not callous at all. But it sure as hell refutes the attacks on NASA that were saying "the private sector will do space flight cheaper and safer". Meh. This stuff is inherently dangerous, and isn't yet routine, so stuff will go wrong.

        Condolences and thanks to the family and friends of the crew. Your loss was in the interest of enriching us all.

      • Unfortunately, this sort of thing can't really be classed as space exploration :\

      • the good work of private spaceflight

        Why is private spaceflight "good work"? I mean, it's good if you're a shareholder and you stand to profit, but where is the moral good in that?

    • Wow, with the Orbital Sciences launch failure and now this, it is really turning into a bad week for privately funded spaceflight.

      Orbital Sciences launch was being paid for by NASA - how is that privately funded? Otherwise, ULA is a privately funded spaceflight company too.

  • Apparently, "anomaly" is a synonym for exploded into may tiny pieces.

    Who knew?

    Kidding aside it's a sad day for the family of the person killed.
    • Apparently, in space flight, "anomalies" can lead to disaster.

      Who knew?
    • Remember in the Challenger explosion, when the guy kept reading off telemetry after the explosion? I seem to remember him finally looking up and saying something like "There appears to be a malfunction."

      • Yeah, I remember vaguely. Didn't he say "major malfunction?"
        • http://spaceflightnow.com/chal... [spaceflightnow.com]

          T+1:56 "Flight controllers here are looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously a major malfunction."
          T+2:50 "We have a report from the flight dynamics officer that the vehicle has exploded. The flight director confirms that. We are looking at checking with the recovery forces to see what can be done at this point."

          (The main explosion happened at T+1:13.)

    • by jdavidb ( 449077 )

      May we mourn the loss of this brave pioneer and honor his or her legacy. I think this is a perfectly appropriate time to quote these words:

      I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen. It's all part of the process of exploration and discovery. It's all part of taking a chance and expanding man's horizons. The future doesn't belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave. The [SpaceShipTwo] crew was pulling us into the future, and we'll continue to follow them...

      The crew of the [SpaceShipTwo] honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."

    • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday October 31, 2014 @02:33PM (#48282185) Homepage

      Apparently, "anomaly" is a synonym for exploded into may tiny pieces.

      Engineering and operating equipment at this level requires a certain level of being fairly clinical and detached about it, and not devolving into a screeching monkey while it's happening.

      So "anomaly" being "outside of expected parameters", sure.

      I'm pretty sure that doesn't mean that inwardly you're not going "oh, crap, no" .. but like first responders and medical people, while it's happening you need to keep it reined in.

      I wish I could dredge up some examples, but I seem to remember seeing some things which some of the astronauts said in the middle of a crisis which made them sound like it was just a little thing, when the rest of us would all be screaming "we're all gonna die we're all gonna die".

      I seem to recall one of them went through an explosion or a crash or something, and then joked about it being a bit of a rough ride or something. Even the other astronauts were all stunned by it, I just can't recall the specifics of it. Apparently he was back at his office the same day, and flying the next as if nothing happened.

      Big Brass Ones are kind of required at this level.

      • by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Friday October 31, 2014 @02:51PM (#48282423) Journal

        I wish I could dredge up some examples, but I seem to remember seeing some things which some of the astronauts said in the middle of a crisis which made them sound like it was just a little thing, when the rest of us would all be screaming "we're all gonna die we're all gonna die".

        "Houston, we have a problem" when an oxygen tank has just exploded and practically ripped the service module in half. Yup, that seems like a good start.

      • The incident you are thinking of is, I think, when Neil Armstrong crashed in the Lunar Module Simulator.

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/... [huffingtonpost.com]

        Apparently the story goes that he was back in his office eating lunch a few hours later like nothing happened.

  • Huge setback (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PvtVoid ( 1252388 ) on Friday October 31, 2014 @02:15PM (#48281947)

    As in the kind of setback that could put them out of business entirely. This isn't a cargo ship.

    • Re:Huge setback (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Friday October 31, 2014 @02:19PM (#48282015)

      Virgin is a wealthy company backed by a very wealthy man.

      This is a setback, but crashes happen.

      If everyone had given up on airplanes in the early days because of a few deaths, then we'd all be taking the train today.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        If everyone had given up on airplanes in the early days because of a few deaths, then we'd all be taking the train today.

        We gave up on zeppelins because of a few deaths. :)

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by 0123456 ( 636235 )

          We gave up on zeppelins because heavier-than-air craft became much more capable and cheaper to operate. They still crashed and burned on a regular basis.

        • by gatkinso ( 15975 )

          yeah but there are still blimps

        • We gave up on zeppelins because of a few deaths. :)

          And, yet, we still have airships which hang around sporting events.

          So, no, we didn't completely give up on them. We just decided it wasn't good to be filling them with flammable gas, and painting it with flammable aluminum paint (or whatever it was).

      • This is a setback, but crashes happen.

        If everyone had given up on airplanes in the early days because of a few deaths, then we'd all be taking the train today.

        Right, you've gotta break some eggs if you want to see the big return on investment.

        A few lives here and there aren't going to stop the quest for profits.

        • Re:Huge setback (Score:4, Insightful)

          by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday October 31, 2014 @03:00PM (#48282535) Homepage

          Right, you've gotta break some eggs if you want to see the big return on investment.

          A few lives here and there aren't going to stop the quest for profits.

          In fairness, I would say the guys who are flying these things know damned well what the risk is, and would fight tooth and nail for the opportunity to do it.

          And I seriously doubt Branson would view any of these people as expendable assets.

          Because I suspect he wants to fly on this as much as anybody else does.

          It's sad, it sucks ... but nobody is just looking at this as a cost of doing business. A very real possibility, yes. But I very much doubt anybody treats it as anything except a really terrible loss.

    • They're backed by Richard Branson. No way is he giving up that much potential money that easily.

  • by NotDrWho ( 3543773 ) on Friday October 31, 2014 @02:17PM (#48281981)

    I've been following this project since I saw that great documentary "Black Sky" on SpaceshipOne. It really does look like the first truly reliable commercial means for someone to go into "space" without being an astronaut/cosmonaut or being insanely wealthy. Of course, at $200,000, it isn't within reach of most of us--but it's a helluva lot better than the $20 million that some have spent in the past.

  • I think I may have posted years ago this was sadly inevitable and a bad investment for states subsidizing “space ports”. We may put up with the occasional loss of life in pursuit of loftier goals, but suffer any deaths in pursuit of “space tourism” and it would probably be the death knell for the industry.

    Have any of these “space ports” entered the construction phase? Surely backers will see this as good money after bad now. This coming so shortly after the Antares rocket explosion can only seem to amplify the perceived risk of attempting flights into space.

    I’m all for progress, but how about we wait until access to space for industry and government is routine before we think about tourism?

    • by jratcliffe ( 208809 ) on Friday October 31, 2014 @02:26PM (#48282117)

      People die every year climbing Everest, and yet every year, people climb Everest.

      • True, but rightly or wrongly those people are perceived of has being in control of their own fate and could have escaped death with better decisions. Here you just strap your butt to someone else’s bomb.

      • People climb Everest every year with commercial sponsorship. Someone might die, or more probably have to turn back a few hundred metres from the summit, but by the time they do, they've given a few press conferences where they flaunt the names of their backers, and maybe have appeared in some extreme sports documentary or website wearing very visible "Pepsi" or "[national supermarket chain]" corporate logos on their jackets, so it is ultimately worthwhile to fund these expeditions. (Source: close friend cli
      • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

        The key difference is that Everest was already there before we arrived. Mount Everest could never be built by charging people a fee to climb it. It would not be economical.

      • by Prune ( 557140 )

        Everest death rate per summit is a mere 1.5% in the period 2000-2012. But sure, let's fear monger--this is Slashdot after all!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by steamraven ( 2428480 )

      Spaceport America (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaceport_America) is one of these "space ports" in my area. While I don't think this was a good investment for the local governments, it is operational and launching rockets. Virgin Galactic is the main company but there are several others. This includes SpaceX who is doing testing here (Their main spaceport will be in Texas).

  • which is the most forward instrument in the space opera, "ours all go boom."

  • I take it this is considered space exploration. Is this then the first death in commercial/private space exploration? I know in aviation one of the Wright brothers died during a test flight, and a great many busted their asses trying foolish stuff for centuries, but I don't know about space exploration.
  • Does Spaceshiptwo have ejection seats or do the pilots have to manually open a hatch and jump out?

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Friday October 31, 2014 @02:43PM (#48282335)

    Spaceflight is dangerous. I think the best quote ever was by Mary Shafer of NASA who said "Insisting on perfect safety is for people who don't have the balls to live in the real world." These people clearly don't suffer that problem. [spacequotations.com]

    I thank the explorers who take these risks, sometimes at the cost of their lives. Without them the world would be a much smaller and worse place. It's hard to even imagine the courage it must take to cross an ocean to an unknown continent or to fly into space. People who do these things have my everlasting respect.

    • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwater.gmail@com> on Friday October 31, 2014 @03:14PM (#48282707) Homepage

      I thank the explorers who take these risks, sometimes at the cost of their lives.

      Are you out of your friggin mind? No disrespect to them, but these guys weren't explorers. They were testing a commercial craft, no different conceptually from the guys Boeing hires to give an aircraft fresh off the assembly line a quick spin around the sky. They should be mourned, but for what they were - brave individuals doing a difficult job, not for something they weren't.

  • Per aspera ad astra (Score:4, Informative)

    by Stormy Dragon ( 800799 ) on Friday October 31, 2014 @02:47PM (#48282375) Homepage

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

  • Brutally sad day (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Thagg ( 9904 ) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Friday October 31, 2014 @02:57PM (#48282497) Journal

    Burt Rutan, the designer of the Spaceship One and Two, has been a hero, perhaps the hero, of my life. A passionate, innovative aircraft designer; unbelievably aggressive in trying new things, pushing boundaries that nobody even knew existed.

    His first plane design, the VariViggen [wikipedia.org] was an astonishingly different design than anything out there before; designed while a student at Cal Poly and built in his garage. And it flew beautifully. I saw that plane, his later VariEze and LongEz flying in formation at the Oshkosh Fly-in in 1980.

    He set up a shop at the Mojave Airport, called Rutan Aircraft Factory (RAF). In the middle of nowhere, nothing there but space to build new planes, and he built many. Each one more exotic than the last. His Boomerang [wikipedia.org], his last personal plane, is so far from the standard boring airplane designs that most people wouldn't believe it could fly; but it does fly, efficiently, safely, and every apparently crazy design idea has absolutely solid engineering and aerodynamic backing.

    I took my 14-year-old daughter to see the first flight into space of Spaceship One in 2004. Burt's long-time co-worker and chief test pilot, Mike Melville, flew it that day. As it was climbing to space, it started to spin, pretty fast (about 60 rpm.) Melville said that he was scared for a second, but then decided to wait until he was "in the safety of space" to arrest the spin. A test pilot, flying an experimental winged spaceship, who has never flown to space before, in a plane spinning at Mach 3, decides in a second to wait until he was in the safety of space. And of course, it worked out; he was able to use the reaction control system to arrest the spin; took out some candy to float around the cockpit, took some photos out the windows, and enjoyed the five minutes of weightlessness. Just one of a thousand, maybe ten thousand adventures in Burt's long career.

    I've wondered my whole life about how Burt responds when people die flying planes of his design. In 1983, while at Oshkosh, a VariEze crashed approaching the airport (it looks as if the linkage between the control stick and the elevator failed.) Burt, up on stage, described his trip out to the crash site. As professional as he could be, but I felt it must have been tearing him up inside. He gave the gift of flight to thousands of enthusiasts, but those great planes took the lives of some of those people. How do you reconcile that? I'm not sure I could have, or can today.

    Burt got out of the homebuilt airplane business after being sued too many times by the survivors of crashes. In the last suit, the guy built the plane incredibly wrong, instead of using the 10 layers of fiberglass to attack the fins to the wing, he just glued them on. Astonishingly, it held up for years, but finally broke during a low-high-speed pass. Burt won all the lawsuits, but it was clear that he would spend years defending himself instead of doing what he loved, so he closed the shop.

    Burt retired a few years ago, and lives up in Idaho instead of Mojave. Sadly, for all the innovation he created over the years, there were no commercial successes. This looked like it might be the one, but it's never going to happen.

    This is not the first death in the program; sadly. While testing a previous engine about 5 years ago, the nitrous oxide detonated, killing three of his engineers. I mourned for them, and for the pilot today. My joy over my whole adult life in seeing the achievements of Rutan and his team are about evenly matched by the heartache I feel for them today. They haven't announced the name of the pilot who died today, but may he rest in peace.

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