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The loss of life during the SpaceShipTwo flight made me realize there are no guidelines on dealing with space-related accidents in SEx.SE.

Specifically, I would like to know:

  • What questions should and shouldn't be asked while the official investigation is ongoing?
  • How can we keep this site from becoming a typical Internet forum owing to heated debates between proponents of competing disaster explanations?
  • Had this site existed in 2003, 1986, or any other year with space-related accidents, what would the mods have done to a) keep the site in order, b) prevent legal spill-overs from posts here, c) make sure the posts would be valuable in the future?
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First a preamble, please bear with me...

For what it is worth, I think there is a place for regulars on the site to take on particular roles according to their skills and level of expertise. And that there are important roles best filled by non-experts and enthusiasts. In my case, I am deliberately trying to a) ask questions that round out how much a person can get a broad general introduction to space exploration just by browsing the questions here, and b) answer the questions that come in that are so simple that it just doesn't seem like a good use of an expert's time to be answering them. If they want to, great, but hopefully the day will come when if they want to spend time answering questions, there will always be some answering to do that really taps the level of knowledge they have, and they can trust the more basic questions to be well handled by others. In this way I also learn and integrate my own knowledge, in fact I have been quite pleasantly surprised by how much I have been motivated to learn more in this way, and how that knowledge is really burned into my brain, because I've had to really think it through to answer a question. Not only that, if I screw up, someone will probably say so, and I can fix it. I'm pretty sure I never got so much attention to my essay work from any teacher in school.

In the last week I have posted two questions that were intended to address the traffic I thought might result from members of the public ending up here because they were looking for information about the Antares and SpaceShip Two accidents. It is tricky to do this properly, I came to understand. In fact I ended up just asking a general question that had SpaceShip Two in the title, because I realized it wouldn't be right to ask a poorly defined or speculative question, and yet this site is really perhaps the best place to quickly learn about how such things can happen, and how they are handled when they do. Stack Exchange lends itself to getting quick answers specifically to the question you have. People arriving on SE sites because they just typed a question into their browser's search bar - that is going to happen more and more. (Or they just said it out loud to their phone and it directed them here.) Maybe there shouldn't be any cross-over between current events reporting and SEx.SE. On the other hand, if people become aware of SEx.SE because they wanted to know about something like that, that seems like a good thing.

Now I've asked about investigation of accidents in general, thinking maybe this honours both the priority of Stack Exchange sites of providing accurate, complete answers to questions with long-term value, and the interests of people who end up on Stack Exchange sites because they want to get a quick answer to a specific question without having to search around and wade through long texts. It seems like it is probably better for someone familiar with the site to word such questions to ensure quality, instead of all such questions coming from new users, or not getting asked at all because there was some interest but not enough for people with so-so interest to take the time.

In short, the community is pretty robust and handles most things very well, but maybe there is a place for niche roles that different kinds of users can specialize in, and maybe this is one of them.

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