This has been a week of ups and downs for America’s space community — literally. On October 28, an Antares launch vehicle being used by Orbital Sciences Corporation to ferry cargo to the International Space Station exploded shortly after liftoff. The next day, an Atlas V launch vehicle successfully carried a GPS satellite into orbit — the 50th successful launch for Atlas V in a row. Why the difference? Maybe because the Air Force insists on more oversight of its launch providers than NASA does. Here’s a few other lessons Washington might want to consider: (1) Space launch is harder and more dangerous than just about anything else humans try to accomplish on a regular basis; (2) In space as in other endeavors, you get what you pay for; (3) The old saying that “haste makes waste” has a special meaning in the space business, so let’s not rush to certify new market entrants or force critical payloads off of existing vehicles; (4) If you don’t play an active role in selecting the nation’s future launch systems, then be prepared to live with the consequences of leaving such decisions to others. That latter lesson has special implications for the Pentagon’s lead space service, the Air Force. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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