More was Lost than Just the Rocket
August 3, 2008 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Lost with yesterday's third failure of Space Exploration Technologies' Falcon 1 rocket were the ashes of actor James "Scotty" Doohan, who, along with astronaut Gordon Cooper and over two hundred other cremains, attempted to reach orbit not once, but twice.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot (38 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
The second-stage engine couldnae take him, Captain?
posted by orthogonality at 1:30 PM on August 3, 2008


I think it's a pity that a sad and interesting FPP will almost certainly be buried under 200+ people saying "the engines cannae take it captain".
posted by WPW at 1:31 PM on August 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


Proof positive that God hates a split infinitive.
posted by felix betachat at 1:31 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Orthogonality, I should have previewed.
posted by WPW at 1:34 PM on August 3, 2008


199 to go.
posted by orthogonality at 1:43 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Do people really say cremains? It sounds like it needs a TM after it.
posted by Mid at 1:44 PM on August 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


It's all right. He's dead, Jim.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 1:44 PM on August 3, 2008


Failcon 1
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 1:53 PM on August 3, 2008


Mid: I don't say "cremated remains," I say "cremains".



And yes, it's in the dictionary.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 1:54 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


If your ashes can't be sent into space, I reckon being scattered in a rocket launch is pretty damn good.

And this stuff isn't easy. It is rocket science.
posted by Phanx at 1:55 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


What exactly happened after the first stage failed to separate? Did the second stage remain shut down, and the whole thing tumbled back toward the Pacific? Or did the second stage ignite regardless, resulting in what I can only imagine was a spectacular KABLOOIE?
posted by steef at 2:11 PM on August 3, 2008


So, are they unlucky or incompetent? I'm not being snarky, I'm honestly asking anyone who knows more about the details of this for their opinion.
posted by sotonohito at 2:14 PM on August 3, 2008


What's the deal with some humans' obsession that their remains must be scattered in such and such a place??? All throughout the life that precedes our death, the residue we leave behind is unceremoniously flushed, exfoliated, exhaled, sloughed and sweated off, laundered away, down the drain, never to be seen again, that's the POINT, but then after we've expired, suddenly the remains are rendered holy and we go to great lengths to bring them to some meaningful place and scatter them just so. Seems odd.
posted by subgear at 2:16 PM on August 3, 2008 [6 favorites]


SURELY THIS
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:22 PM on August 3, 2008


What's the deal with some humans' obsession that their remains must be scattered in such and such a place?

Yeah, except that recognizing the finality of death and attempting to venerate the dead through the erection of durable memorials is pretty much the origin of culture. It's a primal confrontation with the limited span of human life and an acknowledgment that the universe continues even when one's own self does not. Respect for the corpse and an attempt to dispose of it in sanctified ways (even when that is exposure, as is customary for Zoroastrians), is what separates us from animals.

From that perspective, the urge to scatter one's ashes is, in fact, a beautiful and non-superstitious way of asking to be commemorated. It doesn't present a material memorial as a substitute for the presence of the self. It acknowledges the material basis for life and asks only that the disposition of the body be dignified.

Me? I want my enemies to feast upon my brains and by that to live on in their essence. But barring that, being shot into the sky in a rocket seems a pretty good way to go.
posted by felix betachat at 2:31 PM on August 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


Hey, private space flight, call me back when you can do orbit.
posted by Artw at 2:32 PM on August 3, 2008


Do they have to be either unlucky or incompetent? The phrase "rocket science" is a cliche for good reason. Most engineers' success depends on luck, competence, and large safety margins. Launch vehicle engineers don't have the luxury of the third, and with a brand-new design sometimes the first two aren't enough.
posted by roystgnr at 2:33 PM on August 3, 2008


. . . or even skipped across the south pacific in a catastrophic rocket failure.
posted by isopraxis at 2:33 PM on August 3, 2008


What exactly happened after the first stage failed to separate?

Romulans.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:47 PM on August 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Or did the second stage ignite regardless, resulting in what I can only imagine was a spectacular KABLOOIE?

Judging by the instant loss of signal (I was watching the web feed), the latter almost certainly occured -- 2nd Stage Ingition before separation.

Indications are an almost nominal burn of the first stage. However, right now, SpaceX isn't being forthcoming with data. In their defense, they're probably still trying to figure out exactly what happened.

So, are they unlucky or incompetent?

They were hubristic for a while. In fact, they've done pretty well -- they have a functional first stage now. What's really happening is they're finding out what everyone else found out -- this is not only not easy, it's much harder than you think it is.

Unlucky? Yeah. Incompetent? Not hardly -- incompetent rocket builders never clear the tower.
posted by eriko at 2:47 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, established in 2002by the founder of PayPal"... I think I've found your problem. Let's face it, if NASA had been run like ANY commercial Web enterprise, no astronaut would survive his first mission.

Anyway, this private space venture is sure making the Federal Government Bureaucracy at NASA look good. Which is a good thing. But what do I know? I'm just a guy who gets better "customer service" from the California DMV and Social Security Administration than from Walmart and McDonalds (but then I also avoid dealing with any of the above more than once a year).
posted by wendell at 2:48 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm torn between thinking that this is sad, and my first reaction which is "Cool! Failed rocket launch! I'd be ok with that." I'm concerned with the launch failure, though - I'm very much for private space exploration.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 2:50 PM on August 3, 2008


This is all so predictable. NASA, with its billions and billions in funding, has proven that the cheaper, rushed, and crappier approach to space really doesnt work, unless you can tolerate several high-profile failures in a row. A private business may not.

The private enterprise talking points about cutting out bureaucrats and managers and other 'useless' people (not to mention things like "bureaucratic safety and QA standards") to make things affordable is a lot of hot air.

Perhaps there's some hope for them, but they're going to have to spend many years and many dollars, not to mention a few lives, learning what NASA has already learned.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:52 PM on August 3, 2008


When I die I want my ashes to be scattered on Jessica Alba.
posted by darkripper at 3:19 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


if NASA had been run like ANY commercial Web enterprise...
...you saying you wouldn't be the first aboard the Spāc Shutl (BETA)?
posted by Wolfdog at 3:21 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


So do you think Richard Branson will refund my deposit?
posted by isopraxis at 4:21 PM on August 3, 2008


has proven that the cheaper, rushed, and crappier approach to space really doesnt work

A lovely report that mungs it badly. Several of those earlier failures weren't Better Faster Cheaper (BFC) missions -- indeed, it was the failure of the expensive Mars missions that lead to BFC and the program that implemented it, the Discovery Program.

So far, they've had one clear failure -- CONTOUR, which broke apart on boost, and one partial failure, Genesis, which was severely damaged on landing when the parachute failed to deploy.

Successes? NEAR. Mars Pathfinder. Lunar Prospector. Deep Impact. Stardust.

In progress: Dawn. MESSENGER. ASPERA. EPOXI -- and an extended mission for Stardust called NExT. More are in the works.

All of them run as PI driven proposals. All mandated 36 months from Start to Launch. Currently, the budget cap on a Discovery mission is $425million, it was lower when most of these were being developed.

BFC is not the only answer -- which is why we have things like MER-A/B, New Horizons, and the Mars Recon Orbiter. But we've gotten a bunch of data that we wouldn't have gotten because of BFC. Lord knows I'm not a big fan of Dan Goldin's term at NASA. But this part of his legacy is secure. The Discovery Program and Better/Faster/Cheaper do work. The early mistake was assuming everything could be done that way.
posted by eriko at 4:40 PM on August 3, 2008


This thread on Nasa Spaceflight.com has some decent insight on the launch (along with some snark, especially regarding the abrupt cut off of the webcast when things went south).
posted by bowline at 5:10 PM on August 3, 2008


The launch as dramatized (with a budget) by Theodore Donald Kerabatsos as James Doohan, Walter Sobchak as SpaceX and the Dude as NASA.
posted by Free word order! at 5:37 PM on August 3, 2008


It's not like they lost all his ashes — just a quarter-ounce or so.
posted by teraflop at 5:50 PM on August 3, 2008


I'm going to make my unfortunate descendants find a way to send my ashes to a different dimension, or back to the Jurassic era.
posted by Artw at 5:52 PM on August 3, 2008


And this stuff isn't easy. It is rocket science.
posted by Phanx at 4:55 PM on August 3


Curing cancer isn't easy. Rocket science, in comparison, is actually quite easy. The basic science is completely known, and the the basic science has been put into practice since the late 1930's. Rocket technology is older now than the telephone was when the first rocket was launched.

This is the history of the Delta rocket platform, which was first built in the 50 by Douglas Aircraft and which is now built by Boeing as a result of a series of corporate mergers. Of the 335 launches since 1960, 15 have failed, for a failure rate of 4.5%. In the last ten years, the failure rate is half that over 76 launches.

Three failures in a row is not acceptable, especially considering they could simply copy the original Delta rocket, and make minor and simple improvements to it.

If there is any hope of a future is space, we need to stop thinking of rockets as cutting edge technology. They were cutting edge in the 50's, before the invention of calculators.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:02 PM on August 3, 2008


He died and got his ashes blasted into bits in a rocket explosion, fuckwin! I think he would be about as happy as I would be if I could get my remains blown up in a rocket launch.

(given up on the Dr. Strangelove idea)

and another .
posted by zengargoyle at 7:29 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Three failures in a row is not acceptable, especially considering they could simply copy the original Delta rocket, and make minor and simple improvements to it.

Delta was based on Thor, which blew up the first four times they launched it. And I don't really see how it's so easy to copy Delta; can you just call them up and ask for the engineering schematics or something?
posted by smackfu at 7:49 PM on August 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


if a farmer can do it why can't they?
posted by HappyHippo at 10:07 PM on August 3, 2008


It seems as if there would be a lot more potential for success (and money) in building smaller, lighter, stronger, smarter civilian payloads and letting the missile-masters build the missiles that carry the payloads. Rockets are good work for people with giant test ranges and lots of experience blowing stuff up real good. Robots and satellites and remote lab equipment are good work for peaceful scientists in smaller labs in the middle of civilization.
posted by pracowity at 12:33 AM on August 4, 2008


He died and got his ashes blasted into bits in a rocket explosion, fuckwin!

Ramen.

I can't think of a better way to honor the memory of someone who inspired people to learn about space and to strive to reach it than to involve them in an attempt to reach it. Even if his cremains didn't reach orbit, SpaceX still took a shot. Hopefully, they'll learn enough about the failure to make the next one a success. That's what honors the memory of a man who portrayed the rocket scientist's rocket scientist.
posted by crataegus at 4:41 AM on August 4, 2008


That's the gud ald cannae dae it spreit.
posted by pracowity at 5:52 AM on August 4, 2008


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