The crash of an unmanned Progress cargo spacecraft in eastern Russia has become the third space launch accident in the world within a week and raises questions about the future of space travel.
Dr. Robert Williams, an astronomer and professor at the Space Telescope Science Institute based in Baltimore, believes that space is a risky business and says anyone who has been involved with the space industry may confirm this.
“First of all, space is a hostile environment,” he said. “Secondly, it requires lots of energy to put something into orbit. Those two factors are a recipe for danger. No matter how careful we are there will be accidents.”
“[The accident] simply highlights the fact that, like getting into your car and driving to work, there is risk involved,” he added. “And it is hard to quantify it.”
But despite the risks involved and the hostile environment, Dr. Williams believes that humankind is hardwired to space travel.
“It is part of evolution, which is genetically driven,” he said. “We try to accommodate to environments that are somewhat different than the one we are currently comfortable in. Obviously we have not evolved to the point where we can accommodate to space, but I believe that we are genetically wired to explore.”
However, Williams speculates that the accident may have a positive effect and speed up competition from other rocket developers.
“I am sure that there are people out there who would like to be responsible for pursuing alternatives and this will give them some impulse to do so,” he said.
Tariq Malik, managing editor at space.com, believes that with so many space launches the general perception is that they have become routine.
“In the last week not just the Russian rocket, the Chinese rocket failed last week as well,” he said. “That is three rocket failures in seven days. It’s a top business and it’s unforgiving as we find out today.”