Recently, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded during a fire test causing the loss of the entire vehicle and a $200M Facebook satellite destined to bring the Internet to remote parts of Africa. Shortly after the blast people around the world began debating the validity and necessity of space exploration. This spectacular fireball failure re-ignited this ongoing discussion almost immediately. Since the landing on the moon, space exploration has continued as we developed and launched probes, created the space shuttle program, established the International Space Station, and now we enter the era of privatizing space. This continued investment in space exploration lead to incredible discoveries for all of mankind that we benefit from daily so, my question is, why is it that one failure fuels such arguments?
Since that ‘giant step for mankind,’ some people have lobbied for funds to be spent bettering the current status of humans here on Earth, rather than “squandered” under the premise of a multi-planetary society. To many people this seemed like a futile, or perhaps useless, way to spend funds. Without refuting these arguments in any way, there is a larger picture at play; why space exploration exemplifies humanity in one of the most fundamental ways.
Space, often referred to as the final frontier, is considered the ultimate accomplishment for humans to explore, and one day conquer. One of the greatest attributes of mankind is our desire to accomplish what is perceived to be impossible. This is perhaps the most crucial trait that enabled us to evolve into who we are today. So it should be no surprise that the very same trait still motivates us. Early cartographers aspired to map the geography of unknown realms, oceanographers are driven to explore the mysterious depths of the ocean and astronauts dive into the ultimate unknown: space. Our desire to explore and colonize extraterrestrial planets is as instinctual as our desire to find food, water and shelter. If we lose this instinctual desire to go where no human has gone before, do we ultimately lose what it means to be human?
Maybe, but what the misfire of the Falcon 9 presents is an opportunity for the world to learn: learn from our mistakes, learn from our misconceptions and learn from each other. As countries, states, regions and individuals around the earth make arguments about what is necessary and imperative to bestow upon the incoming generations, we should consider celebrating the act of failure as a stepping-stone to success. Just because the path to space is not an easy one doesn’t mean that humanity should falter, even in the face of a disheartening fireball and explosion.
Our EdventuresLAB program emphasizes perseverance in the face of failure because it takes tenacity to reach success in engineering. Students work on bridges, structures, robots, cranes, computer games and circuits and more often than not they see bridges crumble, cranes fail and circuits smoke. But they don’t give up. Through the dismay (and sometimes tears), we break down the failure and identify what needs to change to reach success. Sometimes we even cheer and celebrate massive failures--students clapping at some monumental risk that a student took to bring something new into being. This emphasis on healthy mental habits that promote calculated risk-taking, problem solving, critical thinking, perseverance, creativity and other life skills enable students to be successful in life, no matter what career they pursue. One of the main concepts we incorporate is the idea that failure should be seen as a success. This failure-based learning inspires our students to push beyond mistakes and see how to improve the next time around. This is no doubt what the engineers, scientists and visionaries at SpaceX are doing right now. They will persevere until they get it right. After all, space is hard. For now, cheers to the most successful failure of the decade!
By Dahlton Grover