Chair Force Engineer

Friday, July 07, 2006

A Measure of Consolation

Upon hearing that North Korea's Taepo Dong-2 rocket failed shortly after liftoff, I couldn't help but think of another new rocket that suffered a similar fate this past March: SpaceX's Falcon I. In comparing the two launchers, I think SpaceX has a lot to be proud of.

How did North Korea and SpaceX get from where they started to the first flight of their rockets? For North Korea, it started in 1987 as a desire by the Kim dynasty to build an ICBM. The effort relied on reverse-engineering from SCUD's and Russian submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Several intermediate rockets (No Dong, Taepo Dong, and No Dong-B) were built in the process. To fund the development, North Korea used counterfeiting, narcotics sales, arms deals, and extortion of other nations. Building the rocket were thousands of slaves, who worked all day and went to bed hungry.

SpaceX's efforts are far more humble. The company began in 2002. Most of the technology was developed from scratch, reflecting a desire to reduce costs throughout the process. No demonstrators were flown prior to the first Falcon I launch. Development was funded by Elon Musk's sale of Pay Pal to eBay. SpaceX never had more than a couple hundred people working on the rocket.

If anything, SpaceX should be proud that they were able to build a full-scale rocket without resorting to immoral behavior, bringing the world to the brink of war, or becoming international pariahs. While there might be multiple approaches to building rockets, some are clearly better than others.