This morning I listened to news coverage of the shuttle Discovery's return to Earth with a sense of foreboding and dread. With all the problems that had plagued this mission I was thinking "For want of a piece of foam, all of space may be lost."
If these astronauts had died it could have jeopardized and possibly even ended humanity's quest for the cosmos. This is the best case for private space flights and exploration. NASA, being a government organization, is ultimately subject to the will and whims of the public at large. Every time an expensive piece of equipment fails, there is pressure to cut funding. Every time an astronaut dies, there is pressure to take unreasonable safety measures. A privately funded space flight only needs the approval of two people: the guy who paid for the rocketship and the guy who is supposed to fly the damn thing, assuming they aren't the same guy.
When heavier than air flight was being developed over a century, there were many would-be pilots who tried to fly and died as a result. Early in the history of railroads, some "experts" were convinced that it would be fatal for a human being to travel faster than 30 mph. Progress depends on brave men and women pushing the envelope, not 298 million spectators fretting over the safety of seven people.