This post’s title is the widely recognized motto of the Royal Air Force, and perhaps one of the most important phrases ever created.
Of course, I never miss a chance to identify modern uses of Latin- but I’ll tell you what “Per Ardua ad Astra” means later if you didn’t already know. Today, resulting from a deeply tragic accident 50,000 feet above the Mojave Desert, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo inner-orbital spacecraft, along with its two pilots, crashed during a test flight.
Virgin Galactic was planning to send paying customers into space on SpaceShipTwo as early as 2015, according to their website. They are at the forefront of the commercial spaceflight industry, and have ushered in an entirely new era of travel. And it’s no doubt that, while being a tragic accident, the spacecraft’s explosion will constitute a huge setback for their entire movement. Richard Branson (Virgin’s CEO) released a statement earlier this evening:
Everyone at Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Scaled Composites is deeply saddened by today’s events. All our thoughts are with the families of everyone affected by this tragic event, and we are doing everything we can to support them.
We will cooperate fully with all the authorities involved in the investigation, and share more information when possible. For now, I want to reiterate our thanks to everyone from within the space community and beyond who has sent their overwhelming messages of love and support.
As NASA commented: “While not a NASA mission, the pain of this tragedy will be felt by all the men and women who have devoted their lives to exploration. Space flight is incredibly difficult, and we commend the passion of all in the space community who take on risk to push the boundaries of human achievement.”
This was the latest part of an extensive test flight program, and the 55th time SpaceShipTwo had flown. It was WhiteKnightTwo’s 173rd flight and the 35th time SpaceShipTwo had flown freely. The testing program has also included extensive ground testing of all parts of the spaceship. We’ve always known that the road to space is extremely difficult – and that every new transportation system has to deal with bad days early in their history.
Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides summed up this spirit in the company by saying: “We owe it to the folks who were flying these vehicles, as well as those who’ve been working so hard on them, to understand this and to move forward. And that is what we’ll do.”
Space is hard – but worth it. We will persevere and move forward together.
For many reasons (besides, of course, the pilots’ fates), this hit me particularly hard. Firstly, I love anything Virgin does- whether it’s their three airlines or their amazing online blog- and of all companies, this shouldn’t have happened to them. They were really trying to be pioneers, to explore for the sake of exploring, and it’s just a shame. Richard Branson is an incredible man, and a true force for innovation and good in today’s world. His vision has run into a pretty big hiccup, and I truly hope he’s able to continue innovating in this exciting field.
It’s also sad for the space tourism industry. If you’ve read my take on travel, you’ll know that travel, to me, is nothing less than the search for the new. And space travel is certainly as new as it gets in today’s travel world. This accident means a big speed bump for the development of space travel- and quite possibly for the very practice of expanding what we can explore today and in the future. However, I’m optimistic that this setback won’t be for long.
Maybe what I love most about Virgin as a company is its tendency to push the limits of what a typical business should do. They’ve come up with the unheard of ideas of treating their employees like equals, of not treating their customers like cattle, of constantly striving to relay an adventurous sprit to everything they do. So, don’t think for one moment that Virgin Galactic won’t be sending its first super-rich customers into space anytime soon- like Branson wrote, “We will persevere and move forward together.”
Per Ardua Ad Astra = “Through struggle, to the stars.”