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Today we completed our last caving trip in Belize. I and many of the expedition’s participants head home tomorrow.

Because our cave trips take so much time, I have not had time to post anything these last few days. I will try to post tomorrow during my return home, but expect full posting to resume on Thursday.

Also, though I will comment then in greater length about SpaceX’s announcement on Monday that they plan on sending two tourists around the Moon by 2018, I want to note here that this announcement is clearly Elon Musk’s response to the effort by NASA to delay the launch of commercial crew because of so-called safety issues so that SLS/Orion might fly first. Musk is telling the world that NASA’s safety concerns are crap (to which I generally agree) and he intends to prove this with his own lunar manned mission.

11 comments

  • m d mill

    Putting “tourists” on such a first venture would be the height of LUNACY.
    Musk is letting his exuberance entice him into the danger zone (billionaires don’t have to be prudent or even rational, it’s a business advantage… until someone gets killed).
    Think of the reaction if “tourists” (i.e. untrained passengers) were to be killed, possibly a slow lingering death in space. I don’t think wiser heads in his own organization will let this happen.

    Rocketry and space travel are still very dangerous…much too dangerous for “tourists”.

  • jburn

    I would describe them more as adventurers and there are many to be found in this world. They express these desires under water, on water, on land, and in the air, in nearly countless ways. It’s a natural extension for the adventurists in life to look towards space. People will die chasing off-world adventure, just as they die now chasing adventure all over the planet.

    It’s quiet possible there is a given percentage of the population that’s wired for this type of action. It’s built into their DNA as an evolutionary need — to push the edge and beyond.

  • Orion314

    Sending a school marm into space comes to mind.

  • Diane Wilson

    First, these tourists are going to be “Ham in a can” even more than Ham the chimpanzee was in Mercury days. The Dragon flight will be completely autonomous; Elon Musk is not going to turn over the keys to them and let them drive. The training that they will get will be more along the lines of how to survive an extended space flight without adult supervision.

    Second, I think we’re in the early stages of a barnstorming era of spaceflight. Virgin Galactic, New Shepard, along with some that never got that far, all pitching to make space accessible to you and me for only a nominal fee. There will be some spectacular failures, but as Gus Grissom told us, we can’t let that hold us back.

    Interesting perspective that this is Musk’s “brushback pitch” at NASA’s old human spaceflight culture. I’ve seen the opposite view, that Musk is biting the hand that feeds him, and ought to be more respectful, subservient, grateful, fill-in-the-blank. The next couple of years will be interesting.

    Boeing would never have done this, even though the NASA obstructionism hits them as much as SpaceX. I’d love to hear Jeff Bezos’s thoughts on Musk’s announcement, but I doubt that we ever will.

  • md mill: Your objection of a tourist flying on a Dragon/Falcon 9 is identical to the short-sighted objections held by NASA in the 1990s when Dennis Tito wanted to buy a ticket to ISS from the Russians. NASA was wrong then, and I think you are wrong now.

    First of all, the Falcon 9 rocket is very well tested. This is not like putting astronauts on an SLS rocket that has never even been tested yet. Falcon 9 has flown repeatedly. If they get the Falcon Heavy flying and tested a few times I think it will be perfectly reasonable for them to put humans on it. Similarly, Dragon also has been flown frequently , though of course not with people. Still, once they test the launch abort system successfully there will be no reason not to put humans on it. This is what we did in the 1960s. This is also the kind of risks Americans did routinely and privately before the 1960s.

    Will it be safe? No. Will it be a great risk? Yes. Should we try to stop it? NO. Freedom rules. If Americans want to do it, we should get out of their way and let them follow their dreams, no matter how dangerous.

  • m d mill

    I did not say I wanted to forbid this specific event, or any other .
    [But I would forbid this specific event for children, and I would strongly discourage it for parents with children, or spouses–because it is pointless risk…a life is a terrible thing to waste]
    This is not a Disneyland ride.
    It is very dangerous.
    A first trip around the moon, is very dangerous.
    Firemen, and policemen take risks, which have been minimized, for a very specific purpose, and understand the relatively low risk involved.
    Putting tourists on board this trip would be a dangerous STUNT, with no real purpose.
    It is not a TOURIST trip, which was their word.
    My objection was specifically to Musk’s pointed use of the word “tourist”.
    By using the word tourist he is implying safety, WHICH IS WHAT I OBJECT TO.
    Why did he not use the term “guinea pigs” instead of “tourist”, which would have been more honest.

    I am not against humans going into space, or the moon, and taking the necessary risks, for a purpose.
    But don’t pretend this is not an extremely dangerous undertaking, AT THIS TIME.
    If tourists were killed for this specific unnecessary stunt, Musk and his organization would be blamed as enablers (especially when they use the word tourist), and that would not be positive for the cause of commercial space exploration. IMO

  • Edward

    Robert,
    Don’t forget to mention Brianna Wu’s concern that SpaceX could militarize the Moon:
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/feb/28/brianna-wu-claims-companies-could-destroy-cities-b/
    Brianna Wu … suggested in a since-deleted tweet that companies could drop rocks from the Moon.

    The article also notes: “Small space rocks can indeed do nuclear-weapons-scale damage if hitting the Earth at orbital speeds.” Not too small, because the rocks would not survive atmospheric entry. We already have evidence of satellite parts surviving without causing such a scale of damage, and I think we could see if a company (or country) was setting up a nuclear-weapons-scale rock thrower.

    So, why wasn’t she concerned that NASA is thinking of bringing a city-killer-sized rock close to the Earth? This is clearly inherently more dangerous than SpaceX flying a couple of people around the Moon.

    On second thought, Robert, forget about Brianna Wu.

    From Robert’s linked article: “The paying passengers would make a long loop around the moon, skimming the lunar surface and then going well beyond, perhaps 300,000 or 400,000 miles distance altogether.

    It is clear to me that these paying passengers are trying to set a new altitude record that they think will not be broken for several years.

  • Edward

    m d mill wrote: “Why did he not use the term “guinea pigs” instead of “tourist”, which would have been more honest.

    I think that the reason is that the term “guinea pigs” implies that the people on board are animals rather than humans. The term “tourist” has been accepted for about 20 years, ever since Peter Diamandis announced the X-Prize. With his announcement, the space community started a serious debate about a “space tourism” industry. Prior to his announcement, space tourism was not taken seriously, except for Disneyland rides such as Star Tours, because governments controlled access and did not seem eager to take up paying passengers.

    I do not think that anyone thinks that spaceflight is safe. We were led to believe this when the Space Shuttle was first flown, with its “shirtsleeve environment” but we learned better since then.

    So far, every manned spacecraft that has flown more than ten crews has killed at least one of them, but not necessarily by its eleventh flight. Soyuz killed its first crew to fly, the Space Shuttle flew 25 times before killing a crew, and the X-15 flew 191 times before killing a crew. Even Apollo killed a crew before it flew its first one. In the US, dead or almost killed crews led to program cancellations shortly after. Apollo was saved after Apollo 1 due to the national goal of getting to the Moon. How serious were we about learning to fly in space safely?

    I once asked a vice president of XCOR about how they were trying to mitigate negative reactions to the first paying passengers to get killed in a spaceflight — and it will happen, someday. He said that the companies in the industry were working on educating the general public about the risks. This was before SpaceShipTwo crashed. I think that accident has shown everyone that airline-like safety is still many decades away.

    Putting tourists on board this trip would be a dangerous STUNT, with no real purpose.

    Plenty of people have taking dangerous trips for mere stunts. The wealthy Steve Fossett flew balloons around the world, risking being lost forever at sea, for no progress but as a stunt. Not-so-rich people flew non-stop around the world, risking being lost at sea, in Voyager, for no progress but as a record setting stunt. Amelia Earhart disappeared on a similar round-the-world flight for no other purpose than a stunt. More than one crew was lost before Charles Lindbergh succeeded in his stunt for mere prize money. These people had the freedom and liberty to choose whether or not to take the risks involved.

    As Robert said, we should not have gotten in their way. And we didn’t.

    Lindbergh was quoted as saying “What kind of man would live where there is no danger? I don’t believe in taking foolish chances. But nothing can be accomplished by not taking a chance at all.”

    Are we really going to complain that some people are willing to take risks, especially when the result –success or failure — is learning to do it better? Is it any different to let the public take the risks than to have the government hire someone to take them — if the government even chooses to develop what the public wants to do?

    because it is pointless risk…a life is a terrible thing to waste

    A life is a terrible thing to waste, but is the exploration of space a pointless risk? We have already lost eighteen astronauts and cosmonauts in flight, three more astronauts in a ground test, and a few astronauts and cosmonauts in aircraft accidents. Were these people lost pointlessly, or is it the price we pay for progress?

    We have waited for half a century for government to do in space what we saw in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and very little of that happened. Now We the People are working to do it ourselves. If we lose several lives in the doing, would they be lost pointlessly?

    Isn’t demonstrating the capability of our spacecraft a worthwhile endeavor? Just because we do not land on the surface of another planet, isn’t it worth showing that we can get there? Wasn’t Apollo 8 a worthwhile endeavor?

    I think that this is an important concept, and the time to accept it is coming up in the next year or two, so I link this once again, even though many regular readers of these comment sections will already have seen it:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXbdJ3kyVyU (7 minutes, Bill Whittle, “The Deal,” and we have now passed the fifteen-year mark on Whittle’s point)
    We’ll know that we are serious about space travel when we have entire cemeteries full of dead astronauts who lost their lives showing us how to do it right, just like Gann’s generation did, because that’s the deal. That’s what it costs.

    In order to learn to fly in space safely, we will eventually kill a cemetery’s worth of people, and some of those will be tourists. That’s “the deal we have with reality.

    As for not letting children, parents of children, and spouses take risks, should we have banned them from airplanes until Bill Whittle made his observation of airline safety in 2010? What about attempts to colonize Mars or the Moon? What should have done differently when people were colonizing the Americas? After all, the Roanoke Colony disappeared and to this day no one has found evidence of what happened to them. Jamestown and Plymouth had terrible first years, with many dead colonists.

    The question is, are we serious enough to let those who are willing to pay to take the risks, pay the price of taking the risks?

  • m d mill

    Well it seems most of my points were missed or misread or ignored.
    I never said ban it or forbid it except for children…do you think a child should be allowed on this specific proposed flight? No? then you agree with me on that….Yes?, then we have a big disagreement.
    I specifically wrote:”I am not against humans going into space, or the moon, and taking the necessary risks, for a purpose.”…was this not clear?

    I will not answer more, except to give an analogy:
    You have just invented the parachute, and hope to go into business selling them to the public.
    But you haven’t actually tested your prototype yet.
    Would your next step be to strap some willing guy from Fresno under it, and push him out the plane…
    or…strap a human weighted dummy (with auto ripcord), push it out of the plane and see if it works, first?
    I ask you, what is the better business decision?

    I hope Musk’s gamble pays off, but it is a very dangerous stunt and not wise, IMO.

    I have never thought the “space tourism” approach was a good business model to start with… yet. The risks are still too high at this time..Branson has found this out. Do you really think Tom Hanks thinks there is any reasonable chance he will be killed on such an early “tourist” flight?

    In the barnstorming days, a pilot would land in a cow pasture, and some Okie would pay 5 dollars to ride in an air-e-o-plane…and his risk of death was virtually zero.
    We haven’t even reached the barnstorming days of commercial space flight yet.

    After 10 successful flights of any type you can start to think you may have a safe platform…after a hundred, you can be pretty sure. Then think about “tourism” and the general public.

  • Edward

    m d mill,
    You wrote: “I never said ban it or forbid it except for children…do you think a child should be allowed on this specific proposed flight?

    Not in so few words, but you did make the implication by saying that it “would be the height of LUNACY.” We tend not to allow lunatics to do things that might harm themselves, and you said that this is an example of lunacy.

    It seems most of my points were missed, misread, or ignored. It is not up to us to decide who should be allowed on any flight, specific, proposed, or flown. That is what liberty is all about. That you disagree with liberty is your problem, not mine.

    You wrote: “I specifically wrote:”I am not against humans going into space, or the moon, and taking the necessary risks, for a purpose.”…was this not clear?

    It was clear, and it is why most of my comment regarded purposeless risks taken in the past. I pointed to risks taken for mere money, mere adventure, or mere record setting. These purposes have even less purpose than the verification of technology that will be used in near-future space exploration. This proposed mission is much more like Scaled Composites’ X-prize entry, in that the purpose was to encourage sub-orbital space tourism — which it did, considering that at least three companies have since developed hardware for the purpose of making money in this new industry. Two of those companies are actively working on hardware for orbital launches.

    Apparently, you are against people flying balloons around the world for adventure, flying rickety airplanes around the world on one tank of fuel for record setting, or a woman flying around the world just because she can. Are you also against flying private aircraft for recreation, or Sunday drives because an accident may kill the kids on board?

    I also tried (and failed?) to suggest that these two would not be doing a pointless adventure, but helping prove advancements in modern equipment — a form of space exploration.

    You wrote: “Do you really think Tom Hanks thinks there is any reasonable chance he will be killed on such an early “tourist” flight?

    As you noted, Branson has demonstrated just how risky the space tourism business model is. Tom Hanks, being interested in space, has definitely heard of that disaster, but he should be at liberty to choose to take that chance, as should any other Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, or even future XCOR passenger.

    You wrote: “I will not answer more, except to give an analogy

    What a wonderful analogy. It is so appropriate, as testing a parachute costs hundreds of millions of dollars, so you can afford to test it over and over again and again until it works perfectly, without fail, every single time.

    Meanwhile, testing a spacecraft costs virtually only the rental of the plane, and a dummy would be fully capable of performing all the life functions of a human to verify that part of the equipment is adequate to the task. Once your dummies survive the ordeal, then just spend a few hundred dollars more to do it with actual humans. What a good business decision.

    Are you kidding me? The wealthy people who proposed this flight are unlikely to be able to afford a bunch of test flights with dummies, and if it works the first time, then that first test flight would have been a waste of their money. Hardly a good business decision.

    Let the Steve Fossetts, Amelia Earharts, and Charles Lindberghs of this world take the chances that they freely choose to take. Who are we to tell them how they cannot spend their own money? You are not being asked to take this flight, so don’t worry so much about it. You have no guts, you will get no glory.

    Wait.

    Your analogy implies that you think testing a prototype parachute with a human first, rather than a dummy, is such a foolish decision that it should not be allowed. Thus your analogy shows that you think that this moonshot should be forbidden. Add to that your suggestion that Tom Hanks thinks early space tourism flights are safe, your unwillingness to allow children on tourist flights, your repeated warnings of the dangers involved (as opposed to a Disneyland ride), and your continued insistence that these guys and SpaceX are lunatics for trying it despite my examples of others who have taken similar risks, you are most definitely implying that you think it should not be allowed. Otherwise, you would have merely made the observation that it was a dangerous undertaking and been done with it.

    You wrote: “We haven’t even reached the barnstorming days of commercial space flight yet.

    This is because we have had your attitude toward space for the past six decades. We cannot reach the barnstorming days of commercial space flight until we allow the barnstorming days of commercial space flight. Someone has to pay for the development of better spacecraft, and as we have seen over those past six decades, the government is not going to do it. Only commercial space and their customers and passengers are willing to do it. These are people such as Dennis Tito, less than a thousand others (counting those signed up for the suborbital barnstorming rides), and these guys, as they are the only ones willing to pay the price to do it. Allow them the continued liberty to do so.

    Speaking of the risk of death, more than 500 people have flown into space, some of them many times, and only nineteen have died in the journey. If the total number of people-launches is only 950, then the risk of any given person dying on any given mission is about 2%. This is not quite “virtually zero” but it is not so terribly high. It is certainly lower than the risks taken by the first ones to try to fly across the Atlantic; of nine men who went down the runway in the attempt, six were killed (other teams never got the chance to try their flight before Lindbergh succeeded). That chance of dying was 67%.

    You wrote: “After 10 successful flights of any type you can start to think you may have a safe platform…after a hundred, you can be pretty sure. Then think about “tourism” and the general public.

    Once again, you must be kidding me. The Space Shuttle didn’t start killing people until after more than twice your 10 successful flights paradigm, and the X-15 until after far more than your 100 “pretty sure” paradigm. How many flights did the DC-10 make before first killing paying passengers? Thousands? What about all the other aircraft types that also killed their crews and passengers?

    And now you suggest that we don’t allow for passengers and space tourists until after all these flights. It becomes clearer and clearer that you are advocating banning or forbidding it. You now tell us that our two space tourist adventurers should spend the money it takes to test 10 or 100 of these flights before SpaceX considers letting them try it themselves. Is that what you consider a better business model?

    I would not consider these two volunteers to be the general public. SpaceX has not offered rides to the general public, but these two approached SpaceX with a proposal. They are clearly attempting to challenge the rest of us, especially people with your attitude, to accomplish more and do it better.

    If you think it is so unsafe, where were you when Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, and XCOR were first proposing rides to the general public.

    You have to face facts. No matter how many successful flights a spacecraft type has, we are not going to design any “safe” types for several decades to come. Today’s spacecraft are not like today’s airliners. We need to explore the new environment that we will be flying in, just as pilots and passengers explored the environment of the sky. We also need to explore the needs and effects of flying passengers and even children, too.

    Let those who are willing to take the risks have the liberty to take the risks before 10 flights. Even Apollo flew only four command/service modules and only two Saturn Vs before flying men, and flew only one manned mission before heading to the Moon. When people know that they are taking risks, they are the ones most likely to review, question, and advise on the safety measures. SpaceX has its own reasons to be concerned about safety and reliability, too. Is it guaranteed to work? No. But we should not wait for guarantees, because that will only stifle advancement, innovation, and exploration. Let these two adventurous people explore the most modern, advanced, and innovative equipment and methods that we have today.

    Success and safety are never guaranteed. Less-safe steamships had made thousands of successful ocean voyages before, but the people on the virtually unsinkable Titanic were the unwitting guinea pigs of partitioned hulls, and were not nearly as safe as they had been led to believe. Should we have advised people with children to not sail the Atlantic, back then?

  • m d mill

    I simply stated correctly that the very first flight of a particular autonomous vehicle around the moon
    is inherently extremely dangerous, and putting human “tourist” guinea pigs on an autonomous vehicles first flight is not necessary, and not “tourism”, and extremely unwise for the company should a catastrophe happen…which is not an an unreasonable possibility . If you disagree with that ,so be it

    [Incidentally, the word LUNACY was meant for the Musk, and was used as a play on words regarding a MOON trip, and not meant literally…”extremely unwise” was more my actual intent, which I think was made clearer later–“I don’t think wiser heads in his own organization will let this happen.”]

    The word tourist is implying safety, WHICH IS WHAT I PARTICULARLY OBJECT TO.

    I specifically wrote:”I am not against humans going into space, or the moon, and taking the necessary risks, for a purpose.” If you think I mean the opposite, it is only in YOUR mind.

    I specifically said I did not wanted to forbid this specific event, or any other (except with respect to children).
    If you somehow think that means I actually do, it is only in YOUR mind.

    I said “After 10 successful flights of any type you can START to think you MAY have a safe platform…after a hundred, you can be pretty sure. Then THINK about “TOURISM” and the GENERAL public.
    Those statements are reasonable. I never said zero risk, or perfection was then guaranteed.
    I never said the Apollo astronauts or Lindbergh were wrong to take their risks, but they were essential to the success of their missions, and they were not the tourists or the general public.
    To think that the fact a DC-10 eventually killed someone proves anything for or against my statement, only illustrates the inanity of your reasoning.

    “Your analogy implies that you think testing a prototype parachute with a human first, rather than a dummy, is such a foolish decision that it should not be allowed.”
    I never said it should not be allowed, i never implied it…I stated the exact opposite. This is either a lie on your part, or delusional. Continuously you tell me what I think about things. Your knowledge only exists in your imagination. You make straw man arguments while ignoring what I actually wrote.

    I simply stated correctly that the VERY FIRST FLIGHT of a particular UNTESTED autonomous vehicle around the moon is inherently extremely dangerous, and putting human “tourist” guinea pigs on an autonomous vehicles first flight is not necessary, and not “tourism”, and extremely unwise for the company and the cause, should a catastrophe happen…which is not an an unreasonable possibility . If you disagree with that ,so be it

    All the rest is a product of you imagination.

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