SpaceX Plan to Send Astronauts Into Space Could Face Resistance From NASA

Sunday, 06 May 2018 - 1:01PM
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SpaceX
NASA
Sunday, 06 May 2018 - 1:01PM
SpaceX Plan to Send Astronauts Into Space Could Face Resistance From NASA
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NASA
Later this summerSpaceX will launch a test Dragon capsule that's designed to carry humans. If it works out, then SpaceX will start officially transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station. 

But according to the Washington Post, various advisory groups have warned against this due to some potentially dangerous methods in SpaceX tech, and it's possible NASA will get cold feet about allowing astronauts onto the Dragon capsule. They're specifically concerned with how SpaceX powers their Falcon 9 rocket, which hasn't yet launched actual people into space, but would launch the capsule in this case.

In order to make the Falcon 9 more powerful, SpaceX uses a method which involves storing propellant at extremely cold temperatures to decrease its size, so they can stuff even more into the rocket. But to keep it this cold, the propellant needs to be added immediately before launching once everything else is onboard, in a technique called a "load and go" - if an accidental spark caused an explosion, the astronauts would be helplessly stuck inside.



Now it's easy to dismiss these fears as baseless and getting in the way of progress, and even NASA's former acting administrator Robert Lightfoot has said that he worries NASA became too cautious after the Challenger explosion. Problem is, Falcon 9 rockets have exploded in the past, with critics pointing at a specific incident in September 2016 when a Falcon 9 rocket blew up during a load and go before launch.

Nobody was hurt, but that's because it wasn't a manned launch and there were no humans onboard; the only casualty was the expensive satellite in the Falcon 9's cargo hold. While many more Falcon 9 rocket launches have been successful (and it's been over a year since an incident), when it comes to sending real humans into space, even a mostly solid success rate is going to raise some eyebrows. And that wasn't the only time a Falcon 9 blew up, either.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk isn't worried, but that shouldn't come as a big surprise: a guy who sells flamethrowers and launches cars into space can hardly be considered "cautious". On top of that, SpaceX and Boeing have been at each other's throats trying to build space taxis for NASA, and Musk isn't likely to back out so easily because of risks like these. 

Since the launch this summer will be unmanned, it will almost certainly go forward without any troubles. But once the time comes to send up real astronauts to the ISS, that will require NASA to give the go-ahead knowing there's a risk of failure. 

But when it comes to launching humans into space, there's always a risk of failure. The question is whether SpaceX is making things more dangerous than they need to be.
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