[FPSPACE] Spaceflight is a dangerous business

Christopher Gorski cpgorski at gmail.com
Sat Nov 1 16:16:23 EDT 2014


Please don't make this one about furthering your idea that spaceflight
should really be the domain of governments.  Thanks.

Space is hard; space is expensive.  But we can't do anything meaningful by
re-inventing Apollo every time, and we can't sweep the problems all under
the rug by claiming that the way we pay for launches is going to change
that.   Commercial and governmental are subject to the same physical
realities.  As soon as you're less than vigilant, you get a failure...
whether you're flying ORB3, the "VSS Enterprise", the Challenger, the
Columbia, the carbon observatory that rode a failed Taurus rocket, or the
Intelsat on a Long March, or whether you're flying a test-flight of the N-1
before you put cosmonauts on it, or the Ariane V that already had a
scientific payload before they realized they'd ported over a software bug
from Ariane IV, or whether you're trying to launch for the very first time
like Vanguard, or even whether you're already operating in space like DART
crashing into its target satellite or the Mars Climate Orbiter encountering
Mars a little TOO closely...

We can go on as long as you like, but the point is, until we know the root
cause of EITHER of this week's catastrophes, just blaming the private
sector for negligence or cost-cutting isn't any more useful or
intellectually honest than the folks that blame "government" for a NASA
launch failure.

Let's let them finish the preliminary investigation--or at least let them
bury the pilot!--before we turn it into a political sparring match over
preferred funding models.



On Sat, Nov 1, 2014 at 1:24 AM, David Portree <dsfportree at hotmail.com>

> 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 S. F. Portree
> author and stuff
> Email:
> dsfportree at hotmail.com
> dportree at usgs.gov
> Profile:
> http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/people/david-portree
> Blogs:
> http://www.wired.com/category/beyondapollo/
> http://theportreelibrary.blogspot.com/
> ------------------------------
> From: pjp961 at svol.net
> To: fpspace at friends-partners.org
> Date: Fri, 31 Oct 2014 15:32:54 -0400
> Subject: [FPSPACE] Spaceflight is a dangerous business
>  Spaceflight is a dangerous business.
> All vehicles, payloads are experimental.
> There is this concept of “assured access to space,” but overall this
> phrasing doesn’t cover up the fact that spaceflight is a dangerous business.
> People die.  Vehicles blow up.
> What amazes me (if I am recollecting correctly) is that in actual launch
> and mission operations, from 1961 to 1971, we suffered four casualties
> (deaths); from 1971 to 1981, none; from 1981 to 1991, six more; from 1991
> to 2001, none; from 2001 to 2011, six more.  All of these in near-Earth
> orbit.
> In training, my number recollections are a bit more murky.  Maybe someone
> else can provide all training exercise deaths (ground/flight training/etc.)
> over each ten year period.
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