Spaceflight continues to represent one of the more extreme and hazardous undertakings for humans, even if it's just about getting off the ground. But the men and women of NASA's astronaut corps say that the U.S. space agency can improve on the odds that faced the doomed shuttle crews of Challenger and Columbia. Florida Today has obtained the documents that show just where NASA's astronauts stand regarding their next-gen vehicle's safety.
NASA's Astronaut Office wants the next vehicle carrying astronauts into space to have launch disaster odds of just 1 in 1,000, compared to the 1 in 129 odds of a shuttle launch disaster. It also wants the vehicle to have crew escape or launch abort capability, to meet NASA's human-rating safety standards, and to undergo thorough testing and analysis with independent oversight.
No astronaut is scheduled to testify before a House subcommittee this Wednesday, but a host of NASA officials, private industry representatives and safety experts are slated to appear. President Obama will then decide exactly what type of safety standards American astronauts can expect in the coming decades.
The leading next-gen manned vehicle remains NASA's Ares rockets, even if the program has been dogged by budgetary issues and technical concerns. NASA has already tested an official Launch Abort System for Ares that won one of our Best of What's New awards for 2009.
Aside from testing the rocket itself, The U.S. space agency has also conducted a launch test of an alternative escape system, called the Max Launch Abort System. Such a design could make its way into an Ares rocket alternative, if NASA somehow decides to go with a different launch vehicle.
Private commercial spaceflight could also enter the equation, such as SpaceX's Falcon 9 heavy-lift rocket. But Florida Today reports that NASA and independent safety experts remain cautious, and would want to first see private vehicles successfully delivering cargo to the International Space Station.
[via Florida Today]
I still don't like them odds
Don't like the odds?
Would you like to die in a traffic accident instead?
1 in a 1000 sounds unrealistic to me. I know from an engineering stand point that military helicopters fly with a safety factor around .7, a commercial airplane has a safety factor of 1.1, and the Brooklyn Bridge has a safety factor of 24. I would like to know the safety factor of the Aries Rocket and what the "disaster rating" is for some more common forms of transportation.
Check out www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov for some info on motor vehicle fatalities.
In 2007, out of every 100,000 registered drivers in the U.S., about 20 were killed in car crashes. The figures are pretty similar for crashes-per-100,000 vehicles - about 16 fatalities per 100,000 registered vehicles. Judging by that figure, the odds of dying in a car crash in America are somewhere in the neighborhood one in 5,000.
Based on that, I'm thinking that flying a space vehicle with a 1 in 1000 disaster rating would be roughly 5 times more dangerous than driving a car. I'm sure there are smarter people out there who can read the figures better, but that's my interpretation.
I would go today, on the oldest, most out-dated thing they could shoot up. Aren't astronauts supposed to be adventurers? When I took my engineering classes I was taught that a safety factor of 2.5 was the norm for static structures. So 2.5 for a bridge carrying thousands of people, and what should still be regarded as an experimental space flight should have a safety factor of 1000??? Seriously, I'll go up right now.
Going into space is DANGEROUS. That's why we used to have the sense to regard astronauts as heroes. It's a dangerous job to ride a rocket to a place where humans are killed outright in a number of ways. Duh. Are modern astronauts so ignorant about what the universe is like but they managed to fight their way to the top of the elitist of the elite so that they could get the chance to say, "No, I don't think that is safe enough"?
I'll get on a rocket that might have one chace in te of getting me into space and back again. Give me one shot in a million of going to another ster and I'll take it.
I'll try. I'd risk anything for it. Space for me is The Great Dream- if it isn't for you, then you should never have spent your life becoming an astronaut. Maybe you could have just been a good pilot or something.
Remember as a kid when you read Arthur C. Clarke or Robert A. Heinlein and wanted to be there on those ships? You don't? Then maybe you were not cut out to be a spaceship pilot. Did you at least want to be Luke Skywalker?
I want to hear all the arguments (which is more than saying "no it isn't").
mechanical engineering student
nuclear weapons systems craftsman
lnwolf41 Alas the era of heros is gone. We live in a world of fear, shake someones hand and you might get sick and die.
Its a shame, we put people on the moon in the 60's(or did we?) and now we can barely get into orbit. Maybe we should go with a simpler machine, or one not built by lowest bidder.
or we should focus on china and make them stop polutting the earth and growing so fast that way we will have a nicer earth then we focus on space and let my plan unfold..........
uncleiroh13, please don't try to shift the focus of this discussion. To respond to your comment: instead of diverting every thing to place the blame on China, how about we own up to the part we have had in messing things up? Why does cloudy little Germany generate 4-5 times the solar electric power the huge US makes? And China is the only country I know of to try to limit population growth.
But this discussion is about spaceflight, and the safety of it.
NASA is to busy spending money on how to make a rocket plain fly on mars for 1 hour.
NASA is a huge organization and it's unrealistic that they would all be working on the same project Azorus. Innovation comes from out of the box ideas like the ARES surveyor. Through that research they may be gaining knowledge about how to get planes to fly higher (aka less atmosphere for lift) and at higher speeds.
And for the heroes conversation, I think many of them are still considered heroes. Just look at the crew of the last Hubble mission, they got tons of news coverage and an IMAX movie documenting it all. Astronauts are still an inspiration to me, even if they want to ride a safer CLV (not unreasonable).
The real rocket fuel is composed of 100 US dollar bills. If they want a safer vehicle, ramp up space elevator research.
Thank you! THANK YOU!!
Preach the word!!!
Help these people understand what it means to "Boldly go where no one has gone before."
I'm sick of people talking about how dangerous Space Flight is (NO SHIT). Space flight is suppose to be dangerous, and the chance to push the limits to step into the unknown vast reaches of the universe is a chance of a life time (now and several thousands of years into the future).
It is also a calculated personal risk for the traveler. If you don't want the possibility to die at the hands of an enemy combatant, don't join the military, and if you can't face the possibility of dying in space, don't spend your life (YOUR ENTIRE LIFE'S WORK) trying to become an astronaut.
Everyone wants to be safe, but if you truly want to be safe, don't leave your house. Then how would you connect, experience, explore, live.
So to space travel is with life. If you truly want to live, take the risks. The rewards are far greater than the consequences. The worst that could happen is you die horribly in space (which we all die eventually, so there's no sense in worrying about something so inevitable). The reward is recognition in your community, across the entire world, unlocking the mysteries of the universe through discovery, getting your name stamped in history for a great achievement, knowledge and wisdom through discovery, and the advancement and evolution of the entire human race.
To me it is this that's worth dying for. If astronauts are more worried about technological inefficiencies than taking a chance on true glory, then they should step aside and just be good pilots, scientists, and engineers on the ground.
Pioneers to this game didn't hesitate for the opportunity, not knowing what would happen to them. It is them who truly disserve a place in space. The rest can stay confined to the comforts of earth and wallow in there blissful ignorance and lack of development (on all counts).
"Welcome! to the Federation Starship SS Buttcrack!!!"
To the man known as JohnnyH:
Never before have I heard something so ignorantly written. To add insult to injury, you sign off as if educated. This cannot be. If mechanical engineering really is your pursuit, then maybe you should seek an alternate school of education. First, your sense of math is atrocious. Who taught you that 2.5 is the norm safety factor for static structures? And how can space travel have one of 1000 when campared to it? The math is not relative obviously. But you, the astute math oriented "Mechanical Engineering Student" did not notice this. Oh well. Lets continue, shall we? Once upon a time, cars were considered (and still are, rightly) to be a dangerous form of transportation. After the formal adoption of it in large numbers, specifically among civilian consumers, many safety regulations were passed to keep the death rate down. Space exploration is in the early stages still, but the time line will most likely be very similar. So why do you have such a problem with new safety regulations? Maybe at one time the main point of sending rockets to space was simply for having accomplished it. But we did that already, remember? We beat the russians to the moon. Now, it is time for the scientific community to take over and actually try to learn something from it. How can they do that if their crews burn and die? I completely disagree with your view of what an astronaut should be. They are the cream of the crop, well educated and top of the heap as you say. And they got there with logic. I think they should be brave men and women, but not suicidal. Ballsy, but smart. The only work available to people willing to throw themselves on the train tracks without knowing the odds is cannon fodder. We have plenty of that already in our United Stated Military, thank you very much. So here. Take this argument (which is just the opposite of a "no it isn't" argument) and ponder awhile. Maybe you'll get it.
an actual mechanical engineer