Emily LakdawallaJul 27, 2007

A horrible day in space

Ordinarily I simply do not mention bad news; there are plenty of people out there who spend plenty of time concentrating on bad news, and (in my opinion) not enough time covering good news, so I keep away from it. But yesterday was such an awful day in space news that I felt I had to acknowledge it.

The worst of it was an apparent explosion at Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites facility at Mojave Airport / Spaceport which has resulted, so far, in three fatalities. Scaled Composites is a world leader in development of private spaceflight technology. Rockets are inherently dangerous, and accidents will happen when new rocket technologies are being developed. But that the accident should result in deaths is a terrible tragedy. My heart goes out to the families and coworkers of those who were injured and killed.

Of lesser seriousness but still bad news were -- so far -- three apparently unrelated incidents at NASA that came to light yesterday, all of them involving bad behavior on the parts of individual employees. First, it was reported in Aviation Week that several astronauts had made "heavy use of alcohol" within 12 hours of Shuttle launches. Then, there was the report of apparent sabotage of a non-critical computer intended to be sent to the Space Station by an employee of a NASA subcontractor. And, to top it off, a NASA employee -- a 31-year veteran! -- is pleading guilty to embezzling $150,000 using a government credit card. Each one of these reports, taken in isolation, would simply seem to be a reflection on individual employees' bad personal decisions. However, for all of it to hit at once -- and on top of that whole bizarre Lisa Nowak affair earlier this year -- cannot but harm NASA. I feel very sorry for NASA and all of NASA's hardworking and devoted employees, who are all being dragged through the mud as a result of some really stupid individuals' behavior.

That's all I'm going to say about all of this, as the news will no doubt be covered ad nauseam in other media.

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