[FPSPACE] Spaceflight is a dangerous business

David Portree dsfportree at hotmail.com
Sat Nov 1 11:41:20 EDT 2014

You are missing my point. 
If you want to do space tourism, you need to do it in a way that works. Fancy new designs carry inherent risks because they carry unknowns and hidden frailties. Such designs don't advance the stated aim, which is to do space tourism, though they can be pretty and glitzy.
What do I want us to do? Basically, get real. Is space tourism even do-able? I mean in a real world where, as people say by way of an excuse, "space in dangerous"? I mean, no one *needs* to go on a thrill ride, and amusement park rides that kill people don't tend to stick around. 
You oversimplify Space Shuttle's development and the hype that attended that development. "Political infighting" is not the phrase I would use, though that was certainly part of it. I wouldn't use that phrase because it's the kind of phrase people use to miss important lessons.
The concept of routine reusability came along too soon and then was further compromised by underfunding. Nixon's staff decided on the final design and told NASA to go make it work. There was a strong tendency to behave as if the old fully reusable Shuttle of 1969-1970 was the one we set out to build in 1972. We worried that the Shuttle would be so effective that we wouldn't have enough payloads for it. In short, we became delusional. Challenger woke us up, though it had already become apparent that Shuttle could not deliver as promised.
We seem to have forgotten a fundamental truth (and a fundamental lesson of Challenger); that saying that a new space system will yield miracles does not mean it will (or, indeed, that it does at the moment the claim is made). In fact, incremental steps are more likely to get us out into the Solar System. These do not have to be slow incremental steps - the pace we set depends on how much money we are willing to spend (the Mercury-Gemini-Apollo-Skylab progression of 1960-1974 demonstrates this reality).
The same delusions have now taken root under the peculiar label "private space." It is *too soon* to assume that start-up companies can develop reliable and effective new piloted spaceflight designs and fly them on a shoestring. Of course, the hype would say otherwise, but we're all sophisticated enough to understand that private companies (especially) hype whatever they do, right? The hype is just that - what we should concern ourselves with is the most probable reality.
There is plenty of room for "private" spaceflight, but not on the scale of Cygnus and SpaceShip Two. New private companies have and can continue to find many niches where NASA and the established contractors need assistance. My favorite example has long been Malin Space Science Systems. I am beginning to become intrigued with CubeSats, too.
These are not as flashy and sexy as Cygnus and SpaceShip Two, but that's OK, because they are realistic in outlook, and (I think) they constitute important "first small steps" toward our ambitions in space.
David S. F. Portree
author and stuff
dsfportree at hotmail.com
dportree at usgs.gov

> Date: Sat, 1 Nov 2014 13:58:52 +0100
> From: dokter.nuyens at telenet.be
> To: fpspace at friends-partners.org; dsfportree at hotmail.com
> Subject: Spaceflight is a dangerous business
> David Portree wrote:
> > Absolutely, but spaceflight can be made safer through good design. The more boring a design is, the safer it tends to be. Novel concepts invite catastrophe. SpaceShip Two is pretty, but its design and operational characteristics are complex.
> > The Space Shuttle was also a novel design. We hyped it&  spun it and eventually Challenger forced us to face the bald fact that it was so complex and contained so many design compromises that flying it could never be routine.
> > Some people have developed the peculiar notion that, because inexperienced private entities are developing spacecraft, often with novel features, the hard facts of spaceflight do not and will not apply. My hope is that this week's twin accidents will serve as a wake-up call.
> > It's not enough to say "spaceflight is dangerous." What we need to say is "spaceflight is dangerous - so are our designs and schemes realistic?"
> David,
> What do you want us to do? Use the same old stuff over and over again 
> being afraid of developing something new? And yes,everybody agrees the 
> shuttle was not up to its expectations because the way it was build was 
> too complex and dangerous. But it was mainly political bickering that 
> got us the shuttle that was.
> Developing something new takes time,money and knowhow but if we really 
> want to go somewhere in space in this century, that's the way to go. 
> Will there be accidents-sure there will be. After more than a century 
> there are still plane crashes and car accidents.
> Spaceflight IS a dangerous business-yes. We don't have to stop doing it 
> because of that.
> Zeger
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