On Tuesday morning, NASA, in conjunction with United Launch Alliance and Orbital ATK, launched an Atlas V rocket carrying a Cygnus spacecraft loaded with more than 7,600 pounds worth of scientific equipment, crew supplies, and hardware destined for the International Space Station orbiting some 249 miles overhead.
The launch was uneventful as we’ve come to expect out of NASA, though even that is a misleading way to think of it. With North Korea repeatedly struggling to put a medium range ballistic missile where it intends to, (a mere four hundred miles away) and big-budget private ventures like Space-X suffering sporadic launch failures, the lack of drama at the vast majority of NASA’s launches has actually done the organization a considerable disservice.
For programs like NASA, public interest is paramount. At just about one percent of your tax bill, NASA’s main priority is consistently convincing Congress and the president that they’re worth the money (and if possible, more of it). The general public often tends to think that NASA’s budget is huge – but the reality of the matter is that they’ve been making “boring” miracles happen at not pennies on the dollar, but literally, a penny on the dollar, for decades now.
When SpaceX is about to launch a new rocket, people pay attention because it’s ground breaking, new, and admittedly, because there feels like a chance that something awful could happen. Like a NASCAR race, some folks will tune in for the chance to witness the carnage wrought by a mistake – and if there is one, it dominates the news cycle for days thereafter.