By John Dodge
Posting in Aerospace
Elon Musk's critics have come out of the woodwork because President Obama's NASA budget favors private rocket companies over traditional and expensive NASA space flight programs. Are Musk and SpaceX, the company he founded, qualified to hurl astronauts into space? I think so.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk deserves a chance to put his money where his mouth is.
SpaceX's tenacious founder and CEO Elon Musk is emerging as a de facto lead spokesman for the commercial space industry in the latest war of words with politicians and former NASA poobahs. SpaceX's Falcon rockets are leading the way for private enterprise to take over what NASA has long done so expensively and unsafely at times, one could argue.
My sense is Musk's critics are looking the rear view mirror while he's peering straight into the future. Those same critics came out in droves earlier this month when it became clear President Obama's NASA budget for fiscal 2011 favors private operators over hugely expensive government space flight programs.
SpaceX already has a $1.6 billion with NASA, but that could grow into a $6 billion pact under Obama's budget.
Musk claims SpaceX can safely deliver astronauts to the International Space Station for $20 million per seat and that he'll be able to do it within three years. That's mighty attractive compared to the $450 million cost for each space shuttle mission not to mention the $1.7 billion pricetag to build a Space Shuttle orbiter (those are NASA's numbers!).
So those with something to lose have circled the wagons. Change is hard, isn't it? Consider the entrenched and vested interests:
"We cannot continue to coddle the dreams of rocket hobbyists and so-called `commercial' providers who claim the future of U.S. human space flight can be achieved faster and cheaper than Constellation," he said in a press statement.
What is space exploration if it isn't about dreams?
-- Former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin on the cancellation of his baby, the Constellation moon and mars program:
"I'm one of the biggest proponents of commercial spaceflight, but it doesn't yet exist. I would like an enlightened government policy to help bring it about, but I don't believe you get there by destroying all your government capability so there's no option but for the government to do whatever necessary to get the - quote - commercial operators - unquote - to succeed. That's not the way to do it," he told CBS News.
Is that to say it has to cost $450 million every time we fire a Space Shuttle into orbit?
--The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel headed by Ret. Vice Admiral Joe Dyer concluded in January that private companies like SpaceX do not meet safety standards to carry crews.
No one is saying SpaceX should not be held to highest safety standards. And maybe the conclusions of Dyer's panel are correct, but that can change. Keeping NASA's budget flat required some tough decisions and budget-cutting.
The New York Times asked in a story on Feb. 15 whether Musk should run NASA's human flight program. And while the story objectively presented legitimate arguments on both sides, it never really answered its own question. Well, I will with a question of my own. Why not?
"We don't fly on U.S. Air Government. We fly on Southwest and JetBlue."
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Feb 24, 2010
I would love to see commercial space flights start in the next few years, but we're ignoring a lot to embrace that fantasy. Space Ship One was a giant leap in the world of rocketry, but Virgin Galactic is still just throwing big lawn darts up in the sky. Straight up, straight down. Frankly it's just a big big big hobby rocket. What's missing? Lots. Orbital velocity. Space Ship One was traveling at ZERO mph at the peak of it's flight. The Space Station is traveling at 17,200 miles per hour. It takes a lot of fuel to reach that speed, then you have to put on the brakes to get back to earth. Heat shields are heavy and you have to speed them up before they can slow you down. More fuel. You're also missing orbital navigation engines, navigation control, radiation shielding, extended life support... More fuel. Mr Musk is shipping promises in volume, in exchange for government money. I'll eat my hat if he can get SpaceX to the space station in under 10 years!
Daliman25, I think you missed the point of the Diamandis quote; for me, what Diamandis is saying is that we make use of commercial companies to do, well, commerce. He isn't talking about regulation or the like, he is talking about how we don't rely on the government to do everyday things. He is also making the point that he uses inexpensive commercial services that are successful in their own right. Space travel, space expoitation should now be the perview of private enterprise. Granted, it is expensive and dangerous, but again so was boarding a ship in 1492 to sail west from Spain. There should be government oversight and regulation but not to the point of stifling all utilazation of space. Look, the government isn't doing it. Let the government get out of the way of the people who can do it.
You did a good job of taking shots at the government. And, the comment from Peter Diamonds is important to recognize. Before there was Southwest or Jet Blue, we all flew on government regulated and controlled airlines. They were only deregulated about 30 years ago. Maybe the folks at NASA have done enough homework that private industry can now play a role. Where would SpaceX be without all the research, safety management and investment we have all made as taxpayers in the NASA program. Let's at least give the NASA folks some credit. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
Senator Shelby is showing himself to be what is so wrong with our government. I know that being a politian means that he's supposed to look out for his district or state, but his state should not be a higher priority than the country.