A month ago I wrote a post about how excited I am to watch an American manned space craft head into orbit to make a visit to the space station. The launch is May 27 and for most students, this is the first time they’ve had an opportunity to watch a rocket heading to space. I wonder if students are required to watch the launch?

Is school in session in Chester? I tried to follow the instructions on the Chester-Upland website but I guess you have to have a kid in school to know if school is still in session. I would hope that at least the students at our STEM school are encouraged to learn about the launch and watch it.

Elon Musk, the maker of Tesla cars, also owns Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and, according to the Washington Post, has become one of the most improbable stories in the history of American enterprise, a combination of disruption, failure and triumph that has transformed it from a spunky start-up to an industry powerhouse with some 7,000 employees.

..the mission would herald a monumental moment in human space exploration: the first launch by a private company of people into orbit.

The flight — the first of NASA astronauts from the United States since the space shuttle was retired nearly a decade ago — is the culmination of years of work by SpaceX and NASA to end America’s reliance on Russia to fly astronauts to the space station. Without a way to get astronauts to orbit, NASA has had to rely on the Russians to get to space — a fact that has embarrassed the agency but could soon come to an end if SpaceX is successful.

I remember Musk kept blowing up rockets in the early days and figured it was just a fun passion project for him. Like most news stories, they like to report on the bad stuff. You never hear of all the planes that take off and land successfully, but let one crash and it’s all over the news. 

The 4th Time’s a Charm 

Musk’s company nearly died in infancy, after three consecutive launches that failed to reach orbit drained Musk’s bank account (he’s put up $100 million of his own money) and put the company on a path to bankruptcy. It emerged triumphant after its fourth launch successfully delivered a dummy satellite to orbit in 2008 and was rescued by NASA, which awarded it a $1.6 billion contract to fly cargo and supplies to the space station a few months later. 

That means that 3 failures plus 1 success equal $1.6 billion. Maybe folks should fail more.

Musk thrives on failure

SpaceX has always ruffled feathers, especially among traditionalists in the industry, who derided its public failures as signs that it was reckless. SpaceX, however, sees them as growing pains to be overcome.

I think sometimes the aerospace industry shies away from failure in the development phase. It looks bad politically. It’s tough. And the media certainly makes a lot of failures. But, candidly, that’s the best way to learn — to push your systems to their limit, which includes your people systems and your processes, and learn where you’re weak and make things better.

My favorite line in the whole article is…

“If there hasn’t been hardware that’s blown up on a test stand, I don’t think you’ve tested it hard enough.”

I think like Musk

When I watched launches as a kid, I always wondered why parts of the rocket would fall off into the ocean. Thankfully, Musk was thinking the same thing.

Traditionally, the first stages, or boosters, were ditched into the ocean after liftoff, never to be used again. That, Musk thought, was a waste that made spaceflight prohibitively expensive. How could an industry be sustainable if it kept throwing away the most expensive part of the rocket after a single use? So he started trying to fly his boosters back to Earth.

May 27 could be a colossal bust or a huge leap for the American space program. With no sports on TV, this is the biggest win or lose proposition we’ll see for a long time. 

I hope young students interested in STEM fields of study are watching the very best, talented, and smartest scientists try to accomplish the near impossible. 

If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.