This has been a bad week for the nascent commercial space launch industry. First, the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket had to be destroyed shortly after takeoff. Then the Virgin Galactic Space Ship 2's feather mechanism prematurely deployed during a test flight, causing the craft to lose control and break apart, killing Michael Alsbury and injuring Pete Siebold.
In each case, it was a Bad Day.
NASA has had Bad Days. The Soviet space program had Bad Days. The Chinese space program has had Bad Days.
There will be more Bad Days. Lots more.
There were Bad Days for the crew of Magellan, and Cook, and Franklin, and others. There were Bad Days in the exploration of every continent, and in the climbing of Earth's highest peaks.
So why do we humans do this? Why do we risk our lives on these things? Why do guys like Michael Alsbury and Peter Siebold put their lives right out there at the razor's edge of what's possible with the best of current technology, just for a test?
We do it for the same reason that John Stapp strapped himself into a rocket sled, for the same reason hundreds of barnstormers died flying their designs, for the same reason that countless pilots have died just a few miles from the SpaceShipTwo crash site.
We human beings need to expand our civilization. We do it by exploring, by going further and faster and higher and deeper, pushing the edge of the envelope, by blazing a trail so that others may follow. Those that do follow build on the foundation left by those who came before, and make it easier for others to follow.
We stand on the shoulders of giants, yes, but we also stand on their sweat and their tears, and their blood.