Last Friday morning I was putting the finishing touches to Living Space, checking that nothing of importance had happened overnight. This is my job as Harriet is busy with her real life in the mornings, what with being a breakfast DJ and everything.
Last Friday evening, I found myself at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London watching a new musical called Take Flight about the pioneering days of manned flight, focusing on the Wright brothers and daring aviators Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart.
Late last Thursday night, UK time, an explosion at the New Mexico facility of Scaled Composites, the company which built X prize winner Spaceship One and are building the vehicles to be used by Virgin Galactic killed three people and injured three others who are still in hospital.
Back on Friday morning, I wrote what I hope was a fair summary of the explosion as based on the news on Phil’s Bad Astronomy blog, along with the then breaking news of space station sabotage and drunken astronauts. While recording, we watched those two stories cycle around on News 24 and Sky, but no mention of the New Mexico explosions. A week later, with the honorable exception of the Guardian, I have seen no mention of the story in any of the UK press, all of whom reported the NASA story. Why not?
In the dark of the theatre, as I watched the tales of the great pioneers of 20th century flight unfold before me (if you like Sondheim-esque musicals, go. If you don’t run a mile. I do, it was great) it was hard not to think of the morning’s news. Early flight was dangerous; peopled died, Earhart herself famously disappeared while attempting to fly around the world. According to Patrick, who met him, Orville Wright ended up a disappointed man, upset his invention had been used for war.
Todd Iven, Glenn May and Eric Blackwell all lost their lives working on something they believed in; an attempt to send man into space. It’s too early to say what the immediate cause of the accident was; the ultimate cause was their belief – and that of the rest of the Scaled Composites team, including the three who were injured – that it was worth doing dangerous things in order to further the cause of man in space. The general manager of the airport where the accident occurred, Stuart Witt, was quoted as saying ‘What we do is inherently risky. These are not the days we look forward to, but we deal with it.’
Tomorrow morning I’m getting on board a flight to go and visit colleagues in Toronto, and then in California. The reason this is possible – indeed, routine enough to be boring – is because of the risks taken in the early days of flight. Here’s hoping that the work that Iven, May and Blackwell did will one day make going to the Moon and beyond seem just as routine.
Update: Details of a fund for the injured employees are given on the main Scaled site.