Only in the space industry can something as spectacular as an exploding rocket be considered part of the process.

Such was the case Sunday when a SpaceX Falcon 9 blew up two minutes after liftoff.

"It's to be expected," said Roger Handberg, who specializes in space policy at the University of Central Florida.

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SpaceX, led by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, will literally pick up the pieces, regroup and, eventually, relaunch.

That's the way it always goes. After the early, unmanned failures. After the tragedies of Apollo I, Challenger and Columbia.

The space program still embodies the best of the American spirit.

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Ingenuity. Exploration. Adventure. And resolve.

Name one other government program that combines those virtues on such a grand scale.

One thing I've learned as a parent is that the ability of space to capture young imaginations is timeless.

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My kids never got to watch space shuttles take flight like I did, but they watch unmanned rocket launches from our backyard with the same sense of wonder.

On a recent trip to the North Woods of Maine, they were just as awed as I was by the brilliance of a starry night from a place relatively free of light pollution.

Our elected officials could benefit from some stargazing.

Even at a time when three attempts in nine months to bring supplies to the International Space Station have failed, it's political ambivalence that poses the greatest danger to the space program's future.

"There's clearly not any voice in the Obama administration that it's got to be a big priority and there wasn't one in the Bush administration," Handberg said. "There's no leadership." And so we've gotten to a point where we're relying on the Russians to transport our astronauts. And, for the time being, have lost two cargo vessels from SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, which had a rocket explode just after liftoff in October.

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The whole scenario has a bit of a Hollywood-esque Apollo 13 quality to it - the astronauts at the space station could run out of food and supplies without regular cargo shipments, though NASA says that won't happen.

At the same time, critics of the space program's slow-rolled approach to new feats since the last moon landing in 1972 when it comes to real exploration.

"The reality is the last time we went somewhere more distant than between Orlando and Miami - with people - was 43 years ago," said John Logsdon, professor emeritus at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

But for all of its mistakes along the way, the space program today has just as much chutzpah has ever.

We have people like Musk, who wasn't satisfied making a fortune off PayPal or founding Tesla.

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Next he wants to colonize Mars.

The Falcon 9, which has launched successfully 18 times, is only a first step.

And Florida will be along for the ride. The state's economy is still inextricably linked to the space program.

Though Musk wants to move a big chunk of his cargo business to a new launch site in Texas, Cape Canaveral, east of Orlando, will remain the hub of manned space missions.

The goal is 2017.

The return of manned missions will, hopefully, also restore more public enthusiasm for the space program.

It's not a long shot. Remember how jazzed everyone was just three years ago over the landing of the Curiosity Rover on Mars? NASA videos on YouTube became overnight sensations. A NASA engineer with a mohawk became everybody's favorite meme.

Those images provided hope for the newest generation of space geeks.

In fact, the mohawk guy's Twitter account provided one of the best summations of Sunday's Falcon 9 setback: "Sadly frequent reminder that space demands perfection. Failures teach us more than successes. Keep exploring & best wishes, @spacex."

Beth Kassab is an Orlando Sentinel columnist. Readers may send her email at bkassab@tribune.com.