How Risky Is It to Send Jeff Bezos to the Edge of Space?

NASA astronauts say that flying on a brief suborbital journey will not be the identical as touring to the Worldwide Area Station. NASA autos just like the now-retired Area Shuttle or the brand new SpaceX Crew Dragon rely on a number of booster rockets to get them into orbit, in addition to advanced life help, propulsion, navigation, and avionics programs that inform the rocket the place to go. A few of these programs are automated; others require a skilled pilot, reminiscent of throughout docking with the ISS. In distinction, the 2 new business spacecraft are less complicated in design and operation, in keeping with Doug Hurley, a NASA astronaut who piloted the primary Crew Dragon spacecraft to the ISS in Could, 2020, together with colleague Bob Behnken.

“None of it’s straightforward,” Hurley says of human spaceflight. “We ask loads of the autos, whether or not it is a suborbital or orbital flight, to deliver the occupants and the crews again safely. However, actually, anyone who actually understands this enterprise is aware of intimately that there’s a large distinction between getting the car into orbit, and getting a car to do a suborbital flight.”

Hurley, who additionally flew two Area Shuttle missions, says the way in which to scale back dangers is thru gear testing and crew coaching. Whereas the personal house corporations haven’t flown as many individuals as NASA has, over the previous 10 years they’ve put their spacecraft by rigorous testing packages. Hurley remembers Elon Musk coming to him earlier than liftoff final 12 months to ease any of his issues. “He mentioned, ‘We have completed every thing we presumably may,’” Hurley recollects. “‘We now have gone again by the information and the quite a few occasions we have requested everybody, even the interns at SpaceX, if there’s the rest that we should always have a look at—if there’s the rest that we have to do earlier than we put these guys on this car.’”

The large distinction between Crew Dragon and the Area Shuttle is that the newer spacecraft has an escape system that works on the launchpad and through takeoff. There have been occasions the place the shuttle crew had no probability for survival if one thing went mistaken, like throughout the 1986 Challenger explosion simply after liftoff and 2003 Columbia breakup throughout re-entry. “I used to be a lot safer on Crew Dragon than the shuttle,” Hurley says. “No query.”

Each the Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin spacecraft might need a security benefit due to their simplicity, says Garrett Reisman, a former shuttle astronaut who labored for SpaceX to design the Crew Dragon capsule. “As soon as the engines mild, there’s nothing any human does,” Reisman says concerning the New Shepard rocket. “It’s on autopilot the entire manner. They’re simply watching and the software program is doing every thing.”

“Their life help may be very easy and solely has to work for about 10 minutes,” Reisman continues. In contrast to a longer-duration mission to the house station, the 2 business suborbital spacecraft “don’t have carbon dioxide scrubbing gear or something for recycling wastewater and turning it into ingesting water,” he provides. “There’s no rest room to fret about. There’s no spacesuit, and also you don’t have to fret about the way it will interface with the car.”

Fewer programs imply fewer issues to go mistaken, agrees Hurley. On the identical time, they each say that dangers of spaceflight can’t be eradicated, even with redundant technological programs, testing and crew coaching. And Hurley factors out that when spaceflight turns into extra routine, that’s when issues can go mistaken. “You bought everyone looking for you if you’re on the primary flight—however you wish to guarantee that that vigilance stays all through the size of this system, to the tenth flight and the 20 th flight,” Hurley says. “Each flight is essential, as a result of each flight has individuals on it.”


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