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Panel Warns NASA On Commercial Astronaut Transport 319

Posted by kdawson
from the let-me-carry-that-for-you dept.
DesScorp writes "In a blow against the commercial space industry, a federal panel warned NASA not to use private companies to ferry astronauts into space. While the Obama Administration wants to outsource some NASA activities, insiders at the space agency are resisting any moves to use commercial alternatives. The Wall Street Journal reports that the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel 'cautioned that the private space companies rely on "unsubstantiated claims" and need to overcome major technical hurdles before they can safely carry astronauts into orbit. The report urged NASA to stick with its current government-run manned space ventures, and said that switching to private alternatives now would be "unwise and probably not cost-effective." The findings are likely to provide a boost to NASA officials who want to keep nearly all manned space programs in house.' Private companies such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing argue that they're capable of human transport in space safely and at competitive costs."
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Panel Warns NASA On Commercial Astronaut Transport

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  • by 2.7182 (819680) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:05AM (#30858826)
    Just trying readying Feynman's experience with them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Those O-rings had a safety factor of three!

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        Those O-rings had a safety factor of three!

        When used at the proper temperatures, which they weren't. A private company wouldn't have used them in the same situation because of the liability involved.

        • by McGregorMortis (536146) on Friday January 22, 2010 @11:30AM (#30859810)

          The "safety factor of three" was something that NASA management claimed. The O-rings would supposedly fail catastrophically if they eroded half-way through (one radius). In previous launches, the O rings had eroded only 1/3 of a radius. NASA management claimed this represented a "safety factor of three".

          Feynman was very critical of that assertion. The design did not expect the O rings to erode at all. The presence of erosion meant that they had already failed, and there was no safety factor at all. It just dumb luck that there had been no disasters before Challenger.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by FleaPlus (6935)

      Just trying readying Feynman's experience with them.

      It's really funny that you mention Feynman, because the problem he opens with in his dissenting opinion as a member of the panel which studied the Challenger accident is the exact same problem NASA management (especially Alabama's MSFC) has been having in their push of the Ares I as the "safest launch vehicle ever":

      http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/missions/51-l/docs/rogers-commission/Appendix-F.txt [nasa.gov]

      It appears that there are enormous differences of opinion as to the
      probability of a failure with loss of vehicle and of human life. The
      estimates range from roughly 1 in 100 to 1 in 100,000. The higher
      figures come from the working engineers, and the very low figures from
      management. What are the causes and consequences of this lack of
      agreement? Since 1 part in 100,000 would imply that one could put a
      Shuttle up each day for 300 years expecting to lose only one, we could
      properly ask "What is the cause of management's fantastic faith in the
      machinery?" ...

      If a reasonable launch schedule is to be maintained, engineering
      often cannot be done fast enough to keep up with the expectations of
      originally conservative certification criteria designed to guarantee a
      very safe vehicle. In these situations, subtly, and often with
      apparently logical arguments, the criteria are altered so that flights
      may still be certified in time. They therefore fly in a relatively
      unsafe condition, with a chance of failure of the order of a percent
      (it is difficult to be more accurate).

      Official management, on the other hand, claims to believe the
      probability of failure is a thousand times less. One reason for this
      may be an attempt to assure the government of NASA perfection and
      success in order to ensure the supply of funds. The other may be that
      they sincerely believed it to be true, demonstrating an almost
      incredible lack of communication between themselves and their working
      engineers.

      (It's also interesting to note that Feynman essentially

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by ppanon (16583)

        but there frankly isn't much more you'd do to safeguard a volunteering person than you'd do for a billion-dollar unmanned probe representing years of work by huge teams.

        That depends. If you're needing to launch a dozen or more of those billion dollar "unmanned probes" (or spy sats in the case of the military/intelligence agencies) then it may be more cost effective to self-insure by mass producing an extra one or two to compensate for a 10% failure rate instead of trying to bring the failure rate for one o

  • by Shivetya (243324) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:08AM (#30858852) Homepage Journal

    than paying another country to take our astronauts into space?

    I see no difference, other than we cannot truly hold other countries to the strictest standards that we all know we would impose on commercial endeavors

    • by ftobin (48814) *
      One big difference between having a sovereign and a corporation do the task is that a corporation can much more easily fold if there is a problem. In other words, a corporation has much less to lose.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by FlyingBishop (1293238)

      Where is the profit motive? Human space travel, while it does involve engineering, is really pure science of the highest order. All we're doing is asking the question "What will happen if we send a person into space?" and doing it. It's simply too expensive to be a worthwhile commercial endeavor. As such, free enterprise doesn't make sense. It's something that a purely business attitude simply cannot understand.

      Now, of course what we're talking about is separating those parts that business can understand an

    • ...other than we cannot truly hold other countries to the strictest standards that we all know we would impose on commercial endeavors

      Sarcasm and cynicism aside, I DO prefer the companies that have worked closely with NASA for decades successfully over national programs far younger and comparatively untested. And that isn't to even mention it's a lot easier to talk when there isn't an ocean or two between you and your outsourcee.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      And the other country we are relying is Russia. They have the same experience as NASA.

      This *IS* ROCKET SCIENCE. We should not be taking chances with private companies that will transport people at a "competitive cost."

      They can't get plans to fly on-time, why do you think they can handle space travel!!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by couchslug (175151)

      The problem that would be solved by paying other countries to fly missions is that we overvalue astronauts to the point where protecting them has made _using_ them prohibitive.

      We cheerfully drive cars that kill tens of thousands in the US every year, and accept lots of other deathy/woundy/cripply outcomes as the cost of doing business. We can do that with astronauts if we get NASA and government out of manned launches thus ending public expectations of perfection.

      All pre-astronaut models of Terran explorati

  • by v1 (525388)

    Considering how crazy-careful nasa can be with things, and how any private company is going to cut every possible corner, yes it'll save a bundle, and kill a bunch of astronauts in the process.

    All that money that nasa is spending is invested in making things as safe as possible. Rocket science really is rocket science. If you're not spending that money, you have to expect your safety to go to hell.

    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      The Russians manage to save money, launch a lot of missions, AND they still have a safety record that dwarfs NASA's. Maybe we should ask them how to do it.
      • by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:33AM (#30859134)

        AND they still have a safety record that dwarfs NASA's.

        No, they don't.

        Shuttle has had 134 flights, two failures. About 1.6%.

        Soyuz has had 104 flights, two failures. About 2%.

        Note that in both cases, the "failures" were loss of crew accidents. If we also include failures that do not cause loss of crew, Soyuz looks even worse.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Luminair (515136)

          for some reason astronaut Dr. Leroy Chiao thinks differently "Soyuz has a very special place in my heart. It is a robust, capable spacecraft and launcher. It has the best-demonstrated safety record of any manned spacecraft. And, it just feels hearty."

          why could that be

          • possibly because if you take the number of failures that it has that have resulted in loss of crew, it's actually safer in the event of a fuck up. fun with statistics, no doubt, but i do recall one of the soyuz capsules falling to earth with a ballistic trajectory and landing without serious injury to the crew.
        • AND they still have a safety record that dwarfs NASA's.

          No, they don't.

          Shuttle has had 134 flights, two failures. About 1.6%.

          Soyuz has had 104 flights, two failures. About 2%.

          Note that in both cases, the "failures" were loss of crew accidents. If we also include failures that do not cause loss of crew, Soyuz looks even worse.

          And in addition to the Shuttle's superior safety record, it has vastly greater capabilities. Soyuz is unable to go repair Hubble, for instance.

        • Don't like the odds? Don't volunteer to be the crew. I would *happily* take the Soyuz odds, happily work for free in orbit assembling a station or solar power arrays, etc. Safety is less important when you have a pool of people who are willing to roll the dice for a huge reward (getting to space).
        • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday January 22, 2010 @01:06PM (#30861000)
          Interesting spin. You're comparing Soyuz failures in the 1960's to NASA's failures in 1986 and 2003. Not one person has been injured during a manned Soyuz launch since the 1971 and there have been no in-flight failures since 1975. The modern Soyuz is far safer than the shuttle and has demonstrated it with a almost 40 years of spotless performance.
    • by joeyblades (785896) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:21AM (#30859022)
      You're kidding, right? Challenger, the worst space program disaster of all time, occured because NASA ignored all warnings from Morton Thiokol to postpone the launch. NASA's reasons for pressing on, in spite of these warnings, was entirely commercial.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by zwei2stein (782480)

      (because airplanes drop left and right because boeing wanted to save costs on wind materials ... not)

      Faced with how much dead astronauts would cost em, they would definitelly not cut every possible corner.

      One thing is saving few bucks by using X instead of Y, another having crash-reputation and having to pay-off families of deceased and/or cost of cargo.

      Anyhow, being you, I would really reconsider "All that money that nasa is spending is invested in making things as safe as possible" statement anyway. They

    • by Svartalf (2997) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:36AM (#30859172) Homepage

      Considering how crazy-careful nasa can be with things, and how any private company is going to cut every possible corner, yes it'll save a bundle, and kill a bunch of astronauts in the process.

      For all of their "caution", the following two incidents happened and come immediately to mind:

      The Challenger Disaster [wikipedia.org]
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Columbia_disaster [wikipedia.org]>The Columbia Disaster

      In the first, they launched in adverse conditions that aggravated a design flaw in the solid fuel booster's design that caused the Challenger to blow up as it ascended into orbit. The design flaw was approved by that "crazy-careful" NASA and the launch was approved by the same, over concerns about the design and the conditions by the subcontractor for the engines. If you saw the high-level design drawings for the sealing system they chose to use in the Space Shuttle booster (the most powerful solid fuel booster developed to date at that time...) when compared against the design they chose to use with the Titan II boosters they added to the Gemini program rockets, you'd see that they cheapened the design in the Shuttle booster- with a vastly more powerful booster. Couple that with conditions that would almost guarantee the failure we saw- and an insistence to launch when NASA knew there was a solid chance of this sort of failure- there's nothing "crazy-careful" in that mix.

      In the second, they switched an insulation design for the central fuel tank from one that relied on CFCs (good thing...) without verifying that there might be a problem with it coming off on launch and damaging the fragile ceramic heat shield tiles on the shuttle (bad thing...). The testing applied to the new insulation foam wasn't given as extensive a run of verification as the old stuff was, which led to the eventual issue. No checks of potential damage on the critical heat shield were done- not that they could have repaired the damage or easily got the crew back in one piece if they'd found out that they were in trouble there. No major accounting for damaged heat shield sections or planning for a detected problem (in the form of another shuttle on a rescue mission...) had ever really been done. Again, there's nothing "crazy-careful" in that mix.

      In the end, the only reason we've had the track record we have had with NASA in the Shuttle era of the agency has been that there've been few runs at things. Yes, in the past, NASA was crazy-careful, but that was more around the Apollo era of things. They're not so careful these days- else the two incidents wouldn't have transpired the way they did. In the first, they'd have scrubbed the mission for another day, which would have prevented the disaster altogether. In the second, had it happened with the people's attitudes during the Apollo 13 timeframe, they would've done a once-over of the shuttle visually either with monitoring gear or via EVA to ensure the integrity of the shuttle. They would have had contingencies for damage of the nature that happened- and had a backup plan for the crew if they couldn't repair the same. NASA's gotten to where they're probably only slightly better than the commercial interests in safety because they're well under budget (which is why they're trying desperately to keep it all in-house if possible; they can justify what they've got right now- if they outsource, the budget shrinks on them even further...) and they're operating more as a political org instead of an engineering driven one like it used to be. That's not to say they don't have good people and some of the best and brightest- but to characterize them as being vastly better on safety than the commercial interests because they're not going to cut corners, etc. is wrong and mistaken at best.

      • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
        Yes, in the past, NASA was crazy-careful, but that was more around the Apollo era of things.

        It's difficult to compare the 2 eras because the budgets are drastically different (10:1?). But the documentation reqmts and presence of safety & QA are substantially more since Apollo.

        They would have had contingencies for damage of the nature that happened- and had a backup plan for the crew if they couldn't repair the same.

        What was that contingency plan they used for Apollo 13 when they didn't have suf
      • by Qzukk (229616) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:52PM (#30860822) Journal

        In the second, they switched an insulation design

        The insulation that fell off and hit the wing was still the old insulation [sts107.info].

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mcgrew (92797) *

      All that money that nasa is spending is invested in making things as safe as possible. Rocket science really is rocket science. If you're not spending that money, you have to expect your safety to go to hell.

      Except the rocket scientists and engineers mostly work for Lockheed Martin and Boeing and other private corporations, who actually build the vehicles and subsystems.

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:09AM (#30858866)
    Because their bureaucracy has done such an excellent job in the last 35 years of getting us back to the moon, to Mars, etc. and delivering on all the multitude of other promises they've made via decades of press releases and computer animation.
    • Well, if it's so easy, then why hasn't some jumped-up John Galt character flown to the Moon on his own money yet?

      Truth is, big plans cost money. The only reason why America went from suborbital flights to walking on the Moon in the space of a decade, is because it was given unlimited funding. Private business just doesn't do that sort of thing,

      • by elrous0 (869638) *
        Probably because big business didn't have a good enough REASON to go to the moon. The recent launch of SpaceShipOne and the Virgin Galactic enterprise was done because the combination of the X Prize and the money to be made on space tourism actually justifies the cost of the endeavor. If a company thought they could make trips to the moon worth the cost of developing and building the infrastructure to do it, you can bet they would pass a plodding and inefficient NASA in a New York minute.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by benjfowler (239527)

          It should be pointed out too, that R&D costs SERIOUS money. If we were to fly to the Moon today, it'd be way cheaper, relatively speaking, than in the 1960s. All the technology's better, we have experience operating in space, we know what to expect, what corners to cut, what not to scrimp on, etc etc.

          That kind of R&D spending is *FAR* beyond what any private enterprise is willing to invest, regardless of the potential payoff. You require the willpower and fundraising capability of a huge nation-s

      • You do realize that Elon Musk founded SpaceX to lower the cost of getting out of Earth's gravity well because he wants to colonize Mars, correct? I'd say that's pretty damn close to a "John Galt".
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Because their bureaucracy has done such an excellent job in the last 35 years of getting us back to the moon, to Mars, etc

      You must not have been paying attention. We have the Hubble, and now we have the new telescope that will put Hubble to shame. We have robots on Mars, which I would argue is far better than having human feet there. We have satellites around Mars, Venus, and iinm Mercury. We have the robot in space that looks for gamma ray bursts. We've had the Voyagers and myriad other deep space probes c

    • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
      What program was designed to get us to the moon or Mars? They haven't got us to the sun yet either.
  • by Ada_Rules (260218) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:10AM (#30858878) Homepage Journal
    Umm... NASA also relies on "unsubstantiated claims" and need to overcome major technical hurdles before they can safely carry astronauts into orbit. The shuttle has about a 1 in 65 chance of catastrophic failure resulting in loss of the crew. For all of its vaunted simplicity, the Apollo flights only flew 18 times and had one very very close loss of the crew in space (and of course one actual loss of crew on the ground). I honestly don't know if private companies will do better or not but it is not as if NASA's record in this area is all that great either. Having a somewhat adversarial relationship between private enterprise and the government as we have with airlines appears to have contributed to overall safe air travel. I think it is worth a shot to try it in space. When the government is both the provider of a service and the one auditing it, you end up with no independent evaluators except at the accident boards.
  • Translation (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Rockoon (1252108)
    Translation:

    Nobody offered us a bribe.
  • private space companies rely on "unsubstantiated claims" and need to overcome major technical hurdles before they can safely carry astronauts into orbit.

    That's true enough. Why let private companies blow your astronauts up when you can get the government to do it for you for many times the cost?

    NASA: the best astronaut-killing rockets that money can buy!

  • The report urged NASA to stick with its current government-run manned space ventures, and said that switching to private alternatives now would be "unwise and probably not cost-effective.

    Because we all know a government run monopoly is the most cost effective means of doing something.

    • by jittles (1613415)

      Because we all know a government run monopoly is the most cost effective means of doing something.

      I wouldn't exactly call it a government run monopoly. I mean, they aren't using unfair business practices to keep others from entering into the space arena. And I doubt you're factoring in the cost of training the astronauts. It's not cheap. Better to spend the extra money on transport and have a better understood risk than to go with a private company.

    • by mcgrew (92797) * on Friday January 22, 2010 @11:21AM (#30859696) Homepage Journal

      Because we all know a government run monopoly is the most cost effective means of doing something.

      My power company, CWLP [cwlp.com], is a government run monopoly, owned by the city of Springfield. We have the cheapest electricity in the state, and and the most reliable power.

      In March, 2006 two F-2 tornados (almost F-3s) tore through Springfield [slashdot.org] and completely destroyed the electrical infrastructure in my neighborhood and a lot of other neighborhoods. There wasn't a single unbroken utility pole, nor a single wire that didn't touch the ground. The transformers were all on the ground, on roofs, and in trees. They had to completely rebuild, and my power was back on in a week.

      Later that spring a single weak F-1 went through the St Louis area. I visited a friend in Cahokia on the Illinois side of the river, served by the private power company Amerin three weeks later, and the only evidence that there had been a tornado at all was that my friend's power was still out.

      Amerin is my natural gas company, and their customer service is abysmal. CWLP's customer service is for the most part excellent. The reason is, if I'm unhappy with my electrical service I'm liable to vote against the Mayor next election, but if I'm unhappy with my gas service there's absolutely nothing I can do; it's not like I can get another gas company.

      If you have choices, the free market works well. With a monopoly there is no free market, and you are far better served by it being a government monopoly.

  • by EWAdams (953502) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:24AM (#30859058) Homepage

    ... is not really what I want people thinking about when I ride a limited-edition experimental craft into the most dangerous place there is. I want them thinking about keeping my ass alive and nothing else.

    • When considering survival in a limited-edition experimental craft, the first step may be to avoid riding a limited-edition experimental craft into the most dangerous place there is.

      Just sayin'...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      ... is not really what I want people thinking about when I ride a limited-edition experimental craft into the most dangerous place there is. I want them thinking about keeping my ass alive and nothing else.

      Right, because it is so profitable to be known as a company that kills your passengers. On another note, who are you recommending to do it then, because it seems that the people at NASA are thinking about covering thier ass, not about keeping the astronauts alive.

    • by MobyDisk (75490) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:57AM (#30859392) Homepage

      Then don't drive a car. FYI: They were made by for-profit companies.

    • Fortunately for you, I don't think anyone is ever going to ask to go for the ride. And if cheap commercial space flight gets shoved in the attic, I don't think any of your children will get the chance to say no either.

      But if we're going to let people try to climb Everest, go cave diving, and test experimental aircraft, I don't see why we need to go nuts with space safety, assuming there are plenty of people eager to take the risk. I mean, trying to be super careful hasn't even worked--to this day we st

    • If their failure rate is high, they won't get very many launches before NASA says enough and stops buying from them. The best way to maximize profit is with more launches, launches that will only take place if certain safety requirements are met. In the meantime, you do realize that NASA gets paid to put commercial satellites into orbit right? And that they have a limited budget, tight time-tables, and various government offices breathing down their necks?

  • by mdm-adph (1030332) <mdmadph@@@gmail...com> on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:32AM (#30859122) Homepage

    Shut up.

    Deregulating space travel is the only way we're ever going to make a dent there, for the time being and with the current political climate.

    Please, just shut up. Yes, a few are going to die going up, but they know the risks.

    • by RKThoadan (89437)

      It's not really all that "regulated" you know. Relatively little regulation is stopping you from building a spacecraft on your own and flying yourself to the moon. The main regulations you have to follow are actually FAA regs for atmospheric flight. NASA actually uses private companies for some satellite launches.

      Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Private_spaceflight [wikipedia.org]

      • by mdm-adph (1030332)

        Well, perhaps "regulating" was the incorrect word -- I guess I looking more for "decentralizing." I have nothing wrong with government projects -- I do have a problem with government-only projects.

    • Just because there ARE risks doesn't mean we shouldn't try to lower them. From an institutional point of view, deaths put any operation on hold longer than almost anything else. If you want to get there, make it safe; ain't nobody gonna go to space if dying has to actually be considered.

      • by couchslug (175151)

        "ain't nobody gonna go to space if dying has to actually be considered."

        The people who deserve to go will brave the risk and move things forward, no one else matters. So what if the timid don't go early?

        Cowards can stay on the ground.

  • Allow licenses for trips into space for private citizens via private corporations. Those who can afford it would fund the cost to get it done. In the quest to standardize and get more travelers, the cost would go down. Possibly low enough to be cost effective that NASA would then transition to the best provider.

  • Privatizing the other aerospace operations of the government, mainly war, has become so economical and reliable that we now have $billions extra for space exploration. Aerospace contractor corporations like Lockheed Martin [google.com] and Boeing [google.com] never overcharge the government. Their aircraft are more reliable than the NASA vehicles that crash once or twice every several thousand launches at the cutting edge of engineering.

    What could possibly go wrong?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Boeing also said that they could build a virtual fence on the Mexican border in 3 years and for $1Billion. 5+ years later, the $1 Billion is gone, the virtual fence covers 26 miles, and it doesn't work! Defense contractors need to be held to higher standards, and not granted any cost-plus contracts,

  • This is yet more evidence that the Hatch Act [osc.gov] should be extended to cover government contractors like Lockheed and Boeing.
  • by couchslug (175151) on Friday January 22, 2010 @11:02AM (#30859462)

    NASA clingeth mightily to its rice bowl...

    IMO it's time to offload manned missions and stick to actually _exploring_ space with probes and rovers and other remote-manned tech. Manned missions have created a burden that sucked other programs dry, but the lust of those who want to play in space can make commercial outfits viable.

    We don't _need_ people in space before we perfect exploring it with the remote-controlled systems we absolutely require anyway to interact with an utterly hostile environment. Development cycles for remotely-manned vehicles can be much shorter (avoids the decades-long burden of old Shuttle tech) allowing "launch early, launch often".

  • by AP31R0N (723649) on Friday January 22, 2010 @11:53AM (#30860094)

    is more commercialization of our institutions and cultural artifacts. The next step after letting Boeing shuttle our astronauts would be renaming the ISS as "The Tostidos Space Station". Next would be Cape Coca-cola. The Nike rocket would at least be somewhat apropos to the tiny crowd who knows something of aerospace history and mythology.

  • Having commercially outsourced spaceflight is good for the astronauts's wife as she can sue the crap off of the private company after blowing up her husband than she could a "blameless government entity".

  • by argStyopa (232550) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:02PM (#30860204) Journal

    "...private space companies rely on "unsubstantiated claims" and need to overcome major technical hurdles before they can safely carry astronauts into orbit..."

    Of COURSE they warn that.
    They are bloated bureaucrats who are trembling at the idea of the free market possibly threatening their sinecure.

    Look, we ALL know that space travel is dangerous. (NASA doesn't exactly have a 100% safety record EITHER...) Personally, I think the private industry space travel isn't quite ready for prime-time either, and that could be a basis for a sincere warning being issued by NASA. But that industry isn't going to see any reason to invest and improve if space travel remains locked in as a government-only business.

    OTOH, it's more likely that you have an entrenched bunch of government employees that don't like the sound of the word 'competition'.

  • Elon Musk's Rebuttal (Score:2, Informative)

    by Larson2042 (1640785)
    I think it's also worth pointing out Elon Musk's rebuttal [spaceflightnow.com] to the findings of this NASA safety panel. I'm glad to see someone in the private spaceflight industry has the cajones to call BS when he sees it.
  • by DynaSoar (714234) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:31PM (#30860592) Journal

    Full article: http://www.spaceref.com/news/viewpr.html?pid=30060 [spaceref.com]

    Among points I picked up on myself, they point out that since there are no existing standards for them to follow for building human rated craft, they claim that none of them have experience doing so is non sequitor. They politely don't point out that the sole existing man rated spacecraft has had two fatal failures, though they'd also have to admit it's experimental, not commercial, even though built by human rated aircraft corporations.

    Even more politely, when ASAP makes the statement that the commercial start ups hoping to carry people are making unsubstantiated claims, they do reply that since they haven't built the hardware yet to test it, and only have stated intentions, it's hardly a valid criticism but don't resort to the sorely needed "DUH!".

    ASAP has done a creditable job when it came to criticizing their own work. That is, the BigAero members cooperated fully when investigating problems. But as far as dealing a blow to commercial startups, TFA is so full of FUD that NASA can only take it and leave it or risk being seen being led around by the corporate welfare milk teat.

    FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation, and more recently Commerce's Office of Space Commercialization, have been plowing full speed ahead to clear the way for the new guys just as much as the big ones. When multibillion dollar corporations get scared enough to "warn" NASA, things are probably going to get interesting. I thought they were interesting enough the year Rutan won the X-prize, because half the licenses for commercial launches issued that year by FAA/AST had his name on them.

  • by FleaPlus (6935) on Friday January 22, 2010 @01:16PM (#30861138) Journal

    Clark Lindsay:

    http://www.hobbyspace.com/nucleus/index.php?itemid=17960 [hobbyspace.com]

    This is ridiculous from beginning to end. Even with optimum funding, the Ares I won't fly for at least 5 years and probably not for 7 or 8 years. So how has it demonstrated or substantiated any capability or superiority? Citing the Ares I-X flight is absurd. That vehicle had virtually nothing in common with Ares I. Griffin's quick and dirty 60 day ESAS hardly sets a standard for optimized design.

    It is in fact the panel that is speculating as to the ultimate safety of the Ares I. It will be so expensive to operate, it will never fly enough times to accumulate sufficient flights to prove any statistical prediction of its safety.

    And by the way, why is a safety panel making judgments about cost-effectiveness? Even if COTS-D were funded, Falcon 9/Dragon will involve about 100 times less NASA funding than Ares I/Orion. Yes, the latter is designed for deep space but that should not require 100 times more money. The F9/Dragon operating costs will also be a fraction of that for Ares I/Orion. Ignoring such cost differences would be considered not just "unwise" but ridiculous by most taxpayers.

    The panel further speculates on the degree of safety of the COTS designs, which really refers to Falcon 9/Dragon since Orbital has made no move to develop a crew capability for Taurus II/Cygnus. There's no indication that the panel made any effort to investigate the statements from SpaceX that the F9/Dragon system has been designed from the beginning to meet NASA's human rating requirements (at least to the degree that the company could determine those requirements). With such enormous cost savings at stake, you might think the panel would want to know if it could be built with high margins.

    Commercial Spaceflight Federation:

    http://www.commercialspaceflight.org/?p=1058 [commercial...flight.org]

    The ASAP's repeated references to the two "COTS firms" ignores the fact that many companies, including both established firms and new entrants, will compete in the Commercial Crew Program envisioned by the Augustine Committee. While the Falcon 9 and Taurus II vehicles have already met numerous hardware milestones and will have a substantial track record by the time any astronauts are placed onboard, several other potential Commercial Crew providers envision use of launch vehicles such as the Atlas V, vehicles that are already entrusted by the government to launch multi-billion dollar national security payloads upon which the lives of our troops overseas depend.
    Despite the ASAP Report's contention that commercial vehicles are "nothing more than unsubstantiated claims," the demonstrated track records of commercial vehicles and numerous upcoming manifested cargo flights ensure that no astronaut will fly on a commercial vehicle that lacks a long, proven track record. The Atlas V, for example, has a record of 19 consecutive successful launches and the Atlas family of rockets has had over 90 consecutive successes, and dozens of flights of the Atlas, Taurus, and Falcon vehicles are scheduled to occur before 2014 in addition to successful flights already completed.
    Further, thirteen former NASA astronauts, who have accumulated a total of 42 space missions, stated in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed that commercial spaceflight can be conducted safely:
    "We are fully confident that the commercial spaceflight sector can provide a level of safety equal to that offered by the venerable Russian Soyuz system, which has flown safely for the last 38 years, and exceeding that of the Space Shuttle. Commercial transportation systems using boosters such as the Atlas V, Taurus II, or Falcon 9 will have the advantage of multiple unmanned flights to build a track record of safe operations prior to carrying humans. These vehicles are already set

One good suit is worth a thousand resumes.

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