Thursday, October 30, 2014

Antares explosion...

Antares explosion...  Doug S. passed along this Fox News story on the Antares rocket explosion.  Most of the coverage I've read has been dominated by ignorant reporters breathlessly leaping on this single failure as if it were some sort of world-class disaster, proving the inability of American industry to successfully launch rockets into space.

Orbital Sciences (the builders of Antares) chose to use refurbished Russian engines for Antares because at the time of their choice it looked like the best combination of cost, speed, and reliability.  Years of NASA mismanagement (which continues unabated) had practically destroyed anything resembling innovation or advancement in American rocket technology.  The Russians had a solid, reliable – even though old – rocket engine technology, and it was available cheaply because of the fall of the Soviet Union and the Russian desperation for hard dollars.  American companies – especially those in bed with NASA – were forecasting decades and multiple tens of billions of dollars in development costs.  Did Orbital Sciences make a bad choice?  I don't know any reason at all to believe that.

A rocket blowing up is not exactly a new phenomenon.  We've had our own share of that with American rockets, and so have the Russians, Europeans, and Chinese.  Rockets, especially the larger ones, are marvels of complex technology straining at the very edge of what's possible.  It's amazing to me that any of those rockets don't explode!  Someday we might advance rocket technology to the point where launches can be thought of as routine and safe, but today is clearly not that day.

Here's some additional coverage, some of it a bit more objective than the Fox News report: here, here, and especially here...

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