Space exploration is thought of as one of the most vital phases of scientific discovery in the modern age. Few topics fill us with wonder and longing the way outer space does. Is there potable water on other planets? Are there plants? Animals? Intelligent life? Long before man landed on the moon, we’ve been asking these questions—often without hope of hearing an answer within our lifetime. There was a time when space travel seemed a dreamy impossibility. Today we wonder if the benefits outweigh the risks.
The so-called Father of Electronics and inventor of the vacuum tube, Dr. Lee DeForest, was quoted in 1920 as saying, “A man would never even reach the moon, let alone travel in a rocket ship to strange worlds and distant galaxies.” The New York Times, who printed this prediction, retracted it in 1969 just before Apollo 11 landed on the moon. Still, we haven’t managed to make it to any other galaxies. And if we give up on space travel because of the inherent risks, we never will. Could you imagine living in a world without a moon landing?
Some feel gathering the information space travel provides isn’t worth the risk. Many believe space travel is inherently dangerous. After all, 26 Americans, seven Russians, and two others have been killed during manned flights or test missions since they began in 1961. Russia’s Vostok 1 and its crew of one was a successful mission. Today it’s regarded as an enormous leap forward for space travel, and for all of humanity. Still, there was tremendous risk involved. Comparatively, adding all space-travel deaths together is still far less than the fatalities caused by falling icicles, jellyfish stings, or hippopotamus attacks every year. Really. It’s very rare for civilians to be injured as a result of space travel, but not unheard of. Some assert a disaster like Xichang in 1994 is reason enough to end space shuttle missions. But is it?
The bottom line is that exploring the wonders of space has provided much needed information which has been vital in the development of human technology and is key to understanding our place in the universe. Even people who don’t care at all about space travel have NASA to thank for many of the items that make our lives easier and more comfortable. Products like insulation, dehydrated food, memory foam, water filters, and video game joysticks all come to us via NASA. And let’s not forget Tang breakfast drink—which was a cool breakthrough for science even though astronauts weren’t wild about the taste.
We should lament the loss of life sometimes resulting from space travel. But we shouldn’t let these incidents stop the pursuit of additional knowledge. The Falcon 9 v1.1 program launched 10 successful missions to one unsuccessful one. And no lives were lost (SpaceX was unmanned) in the explosion that took place in June 2015. Future Falcon 9 v1.1 missions will be manned, and are being developed to continue the Commercial Orbital Transportation services program.