What will you say if SpaceX’s test rocket fails?
That's the question posed by S. Alan Stern in a June 1 essay posted on The Space Review.
And indeed, the odds of Falcon 9’s first test flight failing, or at least not being 100%, successful, are high. After all, with rare exception, almost all of the more than 20 US orbital launch vehicles developed to date have failed, or otherwise fell short of complete success, in their early flights.
Fortunately, American rocket scientists, aerospace workers, and government officials are not quitters. We didn’t quit when Vanguard 1, with America’s first satellite aboard, exploded on its launch pad in 1957. We didn’t quit when early Atlas after early Atlas failed in qualification flights for the 1960s Mercury program. We didn’t quit in the 1970s when Space Shuttle main engine tests regularly ended in fires and explosions, and we didn’t quit in the 1980s when Challenger exploded with a crew of seven aboard early in the program’s history. We also didn’t quit when commercial space launch firms like Boeing and Sea Launch suffered failures in the 1990s and 2000s. To the contrary, in each case we Americans persisted, we redoubled our efforts, we picked ourselves up off the ground, and we resolved to keep at it until we succeeded, in front of the entire world.