Talking about managing risks of suborbital spaceflight.
Offers a lot of comparisons of perception of risky activities —
A lot of people have been saying that after Shuttle retirement NASA astronauts shouldn’t be flying on commercial vehicles until they have been established to be “safe.” But spaceflight is inherently a risky business. Shuttle has a fatal history of one in sixty-six flights. Commercial airliners ten thousand times safer (on the order of one in a million). Doesn’t mean that NASA isn’t doing a good job, but we can’t think that only NASA can do it well, and to say that commercial can’t operate safely is not only unfair but “flat-out wrong.” We have to work with industry to come up with better designs and approaches to getting to space. As with aviation, the only way to get safer, cost-effective space vehicles is to build a lot of them and fly the heck out of them. It’s been fifty years since the first human spaceflight, and what do we have to show? A lot of spectacular achievements, but a pretty pathetic record when it comes to diverse cost-effective spaceflight. Only half a dozen vehicle types and only 500 people. Compare to the first fifty years of aviation — hundreds of companies and thousands of flights, allowing us to learn what worked and what didn’t, what was important and what was not, and we created a save affordable transportation industry. Government has played important role in pushing state of the art, and establishing regulatory framework, but government didn’t specify designs or operate airlines in the early years. That’s why he’s excited about Commercial Crew. For first time NASA will be enabling industry to get people into LEO instead of just doing it itself, with competition, and a variety of spacecraft to get our astronauts to orbit. No more single string, not more sitting on the ground after an accident. The last thing we need after the next accident (and there will be one) is another presidential commission and congressional hearings. Just get the NTSB involved.
So he’s excited about orbital, but in the near term even more about suborbital. In 2010 there were very few orbital missions in the US, but by 2012, he expects to see hundreds of suborbital flights, with a high pace of learning and incremental improvement. And many of them will be applicable to the next generation of orbital vehicles.
FAA-AST has established a Center of Excellence for commercial space transportation, using New Mexico State as the administrative, but also including Stanford, Colorado, Florida Tech and others. Last year was the first year to give out spaceport grants. FAA gives out $3B per year in airport improvements, but now we’re doing the same thing for spaceports. Only $500K to start, used for Kodiak, Mojave, Spaceport America and Cecil Field (Jacksonville). Also getting $5M for an “access to space” prize in the 2012 budget request. Finally, there is a new FAA technical spaceflight center. Office needs additional help with ramp up of suborbital, so they’ve proposed it to be inside the gate at KSC, to allow the nation to continue to benefit from many of the skilled workers that will be seeking employment over the next few months as Shuttle winds down. Spaceflight safety, engineering, range operations and space traffic management. Will support about fifty people initially. Tremendous value to having FAA personnel co-located with operators rather than in an office inside the Beltway. Excited about writing a new chapter with suborbital space travel.