By: Eileen Marable
Science Channel fans, we know some of you remember seeing the footage of the explosions of the rockets on both sides of the U.S. vs. Soviet Space Race in the ‘50s and ‘60s. There were explosions, the shudder and pop of the parachute, and the rocket that lifted four feet then collapsed on itself. Then of course there is the generation of us who witnessed the horrific Challenger and Columbia Shuttle disasters. The point is, we can all recognize there have been failures along the way in pursuing the road to space exploration.
Despite the inability to land its reusable rocket on the floating platform over the weekend, the latest SpaceX Falcon 9 program is no different. There will be failures to learn from and lead to success.
We live in a much different world than that of Werner Von Braun when he was developing the precursors to the Saturn V rocket design that would go on to launch successfully 13 times and carried all the Apollo lunar missions. At that time, coverage of the many failures along the road were likely minimal and controlled. Footage of the tests were likely not even shown until years later. Of course now can have a look –even set to music.
Perhaps the biggest difference in spacecraft and rocketry development – aside from technological advancement of the rocketry itself is people around the world are watching SpaceX’s every move via web cam and social media. Then there are the inevitable public discussions about what went wrong, and whether they should keep trying. We can now all be back-seat rocket scientists.
This latest attempt when the Falcon 9 booster missed the landing on the floating barge, was by what appears to be just over four feet. They also believe they know the cause – a collet (a collar that would clamp down on a shaft) on leg No. 3 failed to latch. To have that level of telemetry and understanding on just their 21st mission, and the third attempt at re-landing the booster is pretty darn good.
The other part of this mission we should remember is that it actually WAS a was a success. The rocket was able to deliver NASA’s Jason 3 oceanography satellite, which will be help document our changing oceans.
So as we watch Elon Musk and the SpaceX ready for the next mission, remember that memorable four-foot rocket flight in Werner Von Braun’s career. It didn’t stop Von Braun from doggedly pursuing his goal, and eventually being key to taking Americans to the moon. Nor should this event stop Elon Musk’s team from stopping to advance humans further into space, and perhaps one day, colonizing Mars.
In fact, we think wherever he is in the stars, Von Braun might be watching the new advancements being made in rocketry with great enthusiasm and sympathy. He perfected his Saturn V with the world watching – but in a much more controlled fashion. Musk and SpaceX has us all looking over his shoulder (even here at Science Channel) and debating every move. In fact, Von Braun and Musk would probably have been great friends. It turns out Von Braun was obsessed with colonizing Mars as much as Musk.
Perhaps in future missions – whether it’s SpaceX, Blue Origin or NASA – we will stop using the word "failure." Every rocket, every launch, every test a step further to understanding how to get it right!
After all, we had to get past the infamous four-foot flight, and spectacular explosions to get to the moon, so we perhaps we can refer to each current step as progress to get to Mars...and beyond.
What do you all think? What is a better word than failure.