An official of SpaceX announced today that the company plans on its first manned launch by 2015, and that the astronauts will be its employees, not NASA’s.


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The competition heats up: An official of SpaceX announced today that the company plans on its first manned launch by 2015, and that the astronauts will be its employees, not NASA’s.

Back when the shuttle program was still alive and NASA astronauts could have applied political pressure to keep it running, some said they should, if only to save their jobs. They did not, and instead toed the party line and supported the shuttle’s retirement even though no replacement was even close to being operational.

How’s that working out for you, guys, eh?

The truth is that there is no justification any longer for the astronaut corp at NASA. They have no vehicle, and any future space vehicle is going to be built and operated by others who will chose their own pilots.

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13 comments

  • I am particularly excited to see private astronauts being the first to fly on the Dragon. It would set some precedence for private astronauts being the first off-Earth settlers to man a (lunar) base. I think that would be good because it could accelerate that.

    However, I see a couple of reasons for NASA astronauts. First, if NASA is paying most of the bill, then I would think that they have a right to fly whomever they wish. That’s not necessarily an argument for NASA astronauts but is just a reminder of who should make that decision. But secondly, I see a difference in purpose and so a difference in training between NASA and private astronauts. Private astronauts should work to expand the company’s capabilities and profitability. NASA astronauts should do those things of public good but for which private companies can’t make sufficient profit from. I would say that that includes much of the scientific endeavor in space. The settlement of the Moon should be by private individuals, IMO. Those settlers can earn their keep building and fixing a very large telerobotic mining workforce. As for the initial settlement of Mars, I could go either way. Time will tell whether there is a business case for Mars settlement.

  • “NASA astronauts should do those things of public good but for which private companies can’t make sufficient profit from. I would say that that includes much of the scientific endeavor in space.”

    I give you Bell Labs and the IBM Fellowship program, or the research department of any major pharmaceutical company. If you are referring to the astronomical and pure physical sciences, then I’d say you’re right. Those endeavors have little or no commercial application. I would be much surprised if a number of companies didn’t put their own labs in orbit, especially if Falcon Heavy works and comes in anywhere near the advertised numbers.

    I suspect that if things work out, and we don’t suffer irrevocable economic collapse, that private industry will take over most of the commercial research now done on the ISS. That facility will operate much as government-funded research stations in Antarctica: pure, non-commercial research. But ‘much of the science’ in orbit will be commercially oriented.

  • Kelly Starks

    > — The truth is that there is no justification any longer for the astronaut corp at NASA. They
    > have no vehicle, and any future space vehicle is going to be built and operated by
    > others who will chose their own pilots. —

    If you mean we should abandon the ISS, and end all US maned space exploration etc (basicly end NASA) thats one thing. Of course that would also end SpaceX since NASA is paying pretty much all their bills.

    You might remember SpaceX has nothing of their own to do with people in space, they are a service providerfor others who want to do things in space — such as NASA.

  • Craig Beasley

    “They have no vehicle…”

    Working on it.

    “…and any future space vehicle is going to be built and operated by others who will chose their own pilots.”

    That remains to be seen.

    Bottom line: We keep putting all our eggs in one basket, and wonder why we fail at the races we set for ourselves. I, for one, hope SpaceX is successful. Their cargo mission was wonderful. And generally speaking, space should someday be the province of private business. If they force that to fruition, its better sooner than later. But, I also suspect that they are going to hit a wall they don’t see on some technical matter, or a wall they think they can bluff their way out of when they get there.

    They make a lot of claims – Trust but verify.

  • Kelly Starks

    >>“They [NASA] have no vehicle…”

    > Working on it.

    ;)
    Yup, and building those vehicles are the top priority for NASA according to congress, so its about the most certain thing in NASA future.

    Really, NASA is using Space to prove commercialization is a bad idea that doesn’t work. SpaceX’s low quality and high cost compared to NASA controlled projects gives NASA plenty of ammunition to push that point with Congress.

  • Y’know, Kelly, before SpaceX had launched Dragon your claim that the company’s work was of low quality might have had some merit. Now it sounds foolish. There is no evidence that SpaceX’s rockets or space capsule have significant quality control problems. Granted, there have been anomalies, such as the engine shutdown during the last Falcon 9 launch, but absolutely nothing out of the ordinary for a new rocket. In fact, the Falcon 9 rocket has probably had the fewest problems for a new rocket in a long time. If anything there is evidence that the company’s work might be of higher quality than much that NASA and others have done in recent years. They certainly seem to doing a better job than the Russians.

    As for the argument about cost, this has been flung about here and elsewhere endlessly. All the facts point to SpaceX being cheaper, including comments by their competitors. But putting that aside, to me the bottom line is that customers continue to flock to SpaceX. If their prices were as high as you like to claim this wouldn’t be happening.

  • Kelly Starks

    > Y’know, Kelly, before SpaceX had launched Dragon your claim that the company’s
    > work was of low quality might have had some merit.==

    And the explosion of a another engine in flight and the Dragons problems in the flight argue against that?
    These are not normal among their competitors.

    >== absolutely nothing out of the ordinary for a new rocket. In fact, the Falcon 9
    > rocket has probably had the fewest problems for a new rocket in a long time. ==

    What competing rocket has had that kind ofproblems? Atlas-V? delta-IV, Ariane?

    > As for the argument about cost, this has been flung about here and elsewhere
    > endlessly. All the facts point to SpaceX being cheaper, including comments by
    > their competitors.==

    Data from the CBO and SpaceX own web sites show them 20% higher per pound to ISS then shuttle was, All their customers dating back to Biggelow several years ago have reported them as “competitive” to higher then the competition.

    You get your own opinion Bob, not your own facts and arithmatic.

    >== customers continue to flock to SpaceX. ==

    NASA is still half their total booked manafest, and complaints abut them listing more folks then the actually closed deals with are still going around. Thats not flocking to.

  • wodun

    “You get your own opinion Bob, not your own facts and arithmatic.”

    When you start talking about the CBO, then you are talking about manipulating the numbers. And at this point any discussion about the shuttle is moot. What is the lowest cost going forward and what can we actually do today are the relevant questions.

    Also, I hope you were as alarmed with the recent issues with our current rocket fleet as you are with SpaceX. Issues that you should be a little aware about if you read this blog or others that cover similar topics.

  • wodun

    “However, I see a couple of reasons for NASA astronauts. First, if NASA is paying most of the bill, then I would think that they have a right to fly whomever they wish. ”

    I agree with that. As the customer, NASA should be able to choose the payload. But why would NASA want to risk a highly and expensively trained astronaut on the first test missions? NASA should put that risk on SpaceX.

    “But secondly, I see a difference in purpose and so a difference in training between NASA and private astronauts. Private astronauts should work to expand the company’s capabilities and profitability.”

    There are differences in purpose and training but it isn’t between NASA and private astronauts but what their mission is. SpaceX might focus on training pilots (if one is even needed) but NASA should be focusing on mission specialists.

    The Space Show had an interesting episode a couple months back about training astronauts either for governments, research institutions, or businesses. IIRC, someone from this company was interviewed http://www.astronauts4hire.org/

  • Kelly Starks

    > .. Issues that you should be a little aware about if you read this blog or others that cover similar topics.

    Actually I’ve been reading this blog since it started, and I spent half my career doing engineering on NASA maned space projects, so yeah I’m aware.

    >..at this point any discussion about the shuttle is moot..

    The point was folks are talking about spaceX being lower then other previous launchers, instead its costs are higher then even the shuttles which no one ever accused of being economical.

  • Kelly Starks

    Actually I wrote a elet on that a whlie back…

    —–
    In May 2011 Congress issued a report listing $850 million (more then the total dev cost of both Falcons and
    Dragon, according to SpaceX)
    congressional document
    “Commercial Cargo Will Cost More Than Shuttle-Delivered Cargo Says Congressional Document”
    http://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/hearings
    /052611_Charter%20CommCargo.pdf

    SpaceX got
    $278 million for three demonstration flights of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon capsule,
    $258 million in milestone payments for completing 18 of 22 COTS milestones. Please see Appendix 1 for SpaceX’s schedule milestone chart.
    $185.6 million for milestones tied to four CRS missions
    $128 million toward additional risk reduction‖ milestones
    Or SpaceX had receaved $850 for COTS as of May 11 (NASA only spent $1.25B in total COTS!!)
    CCDev 2 awards
    $75 million as part of to develop a revolutionary launch escape system and SuperDraco engine (
    http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20110419 ; http://www.nasa.gov/offices/c3po/home/ccdev2award.html
    http://www.spacex.com/press.php?page=20120201)
    Now SpaceX’s press release 5-14-12 ( http://www.spacex.com/downloads/COTS-2-Press-Kit-5-14-12.pdf) on
    page 3 states “..To date, SpaceX has received $381 million for completing 37 out of 40 milestones..” Which is
    another $132 million since the above congressional report said them were paid $258m for 18 of 20 COTS
    milesstones. I.E. about $132m for the Dragon to ISS test flights.
    note http://spaceflightnow.com/falcon9/003/120518commercial/
    said “paid SpaceX $381 million in an agreement to help pay for the design, development, and testing of the
    Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.. SpaceX has spent $1.2 billion to date, including public and
    private capital.”
    They seem to be just refering to the COTS milestone payments, not all the other fees / Awards paid to spaceX for
    the development adn testing of the Falcon’s & Dragon’s, but whats interesting is the $1.2B number.
    Totaling up the above, SpaceX has received $1.057B total from NASA as of May 2012
    SpaceX money confusion — HELP! http://mail.aol.com/36478-111/aol-6/en-us/mail/PrintMessage.aspx
    1 of 2 6/30/12 11:26 AM
    Musk said total dev costs for Falcon and dragon were $800 M and the SpaceFlight now article says “SpaceX has
    spent $1.2 billion to date”, and Musks quoted as having invested $100m of his money in SpaceX. That implies
    hes only gotten about a $100M in investor money?
    They might actually have gotten a lot less then that given they must have gotten some money in advance fees
    from the launch contracts they got (Bellow) which I can’t sort out.
    So is this all SpaceX has gotten from the feds? Itcertainly doesn’t sound commercial!
    Am I missing something.
    Kelly
    http://science.house.gov/sites/republicans.science.house.gov/files/documents/hearings

  • Pzatchok

    Didn’t the shuttle have a main engine fail on lift-off? I think somewhere in the last three missions?

    So the Falcon having a main engine shutdown that did NOT compromise the mission is just fine.

    And is it true that NASA could not afford to build new engines so it was trading out main engines from one shuttle to the next?

    And now that I know your a NASA engineer I can take your opinions with the correct grain of salt. You have a direct reason to put down anything private and to promote NASA.

    In my opinion if you guys at NASA were really that good you would have found a way a long time ago to do things cheaper, faster and easier.
    Now that the public wants space cheaper, faster and easier just get out of the way and let private industry take over and do like always.

    In fact if we took the military/CIA funding out of NASA it would have folded up and went away by 1970.

  • Kelly Starks

    > Didn’t the shuttle have a main engine fail on lift-off? I think somewhere in the last three
    > missions?

    Not that I know or can find. In ’85 on the Spacelab 2 the temp sensors failed commanding engine shutdowns, that were countermanded.

    Not exactly ranking up there with explosions.

    > So the Falcon having a main engine shutdown that did NOT compromise the mission
    > is just fine.

    2 flights were lost due to engine failures, ad a third fail to deliver its secound cargo after another engine explosion.

    >.. And is it true that NASA could not afford to build new engines so it was trading
    > out main engines from one shuttle to the next?

    No that not true.

    >…And now that I know your a NASA engineer ….

    Know, I was a engineer contracted to work on NASA projects – mostly from ’81-’95 as a McDonnel Douglas employee.

    >== You have a direct reason to put down anything private and to promote NASA.

    When have I promoted NASA?
    What makes SpaceX”private” vrs shuttle or anything else NASA contracted for?

    > In my opinion if you guys at NASA were really that good you would have found a
    > way a long time ago to do things cheaper, faster and easier.

    Actually the contractors offered many ways with 4 – 10 fold cost reductions, but NASA political support was always tied to big spending. I.E. voters wanted pork more then space.

    P.S. SpaceX its much more expensive the shuttle was, so braging about cheaper “commercial” SpaceX, your missing the mark.

    > In fact if we took the military/CIA funding out of NASA it would have folded up
    > and went away by 1970.

    There wasn’t any mil CIA funding of NASA.

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