Debate Over Safety of Commercial Crew Heats Up

Debate Over Safety of Commercial Crew Heats Up

Op-eds in today’s issue of Space News (subscription required) offer insight into the debate that will be the subject of competing congressional hearings this week over the safety of human space flight.

A key element of both hearings is the safety of launching astronauts on spacecraft and launch vehicles built and operated by commercial companies (“commercial crew”) compared to those built and operated by NASA. The two hearings will be held at exactly the same time on Wednesday at 10:00 am. One is being held by the Space and Aeronautics subcommittee of the House Science and Technology (House S&T) committee; the other by the Aviation subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee.

Representative Ralph Hall (R-TX), an ardent spokesman on safety issues associated with human spaceflight and ranking member of the House S&T committee, writes in Space News that “A commercial crew capability simply could not be properly evaluated and ready in time to safely fly out astronauts during the gap” between the end of the space shuttle program and the availability of NASA’s new Ares 1/Orion system, part of the Constellation Program. “As I said, astronaut safety must be the top priority. After the space shuttle is retired, NASA will still be required to provide crew rescue capabilities for ourselves and our international partners from the ISS. The Ares 1 launch vehicle and the Orion capsule are being designed with these goals in mind.”

Patti Grace Smith, former Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration, offers a contrasting viewpoint. “Several policymakers seem to make the unwarranted leap of logic that if commercial space travel costs less than a government program, it is inherently less safe. … As a matter of fact, the goal of companies purusing human space transportation in the civil space world via the Atlas 5 and Falcon 9 is to field systems that are much safer than either the shuttle or Soyuz, and as safe if not safer than Constellation.”

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.