back to article Taxi for NASA! SpaceX to fly astronauts to space station

There'll be champagne corks popping in Hawthorne, California, as NASA has finally given SpaceX clearance to carry astronauts to the International Space Station. "The authority to proceed with Dragon's first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the …

  1. bazza Silver badge

    PR luvvie

    "When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown."

    Sounds like PR bullshit to me. The most reliable rockets ever flown are the Arianne 4, 5 and Soyuz launchers. There's no way Space X can launch enough flights in the next year to gain a statistically significant success rate to even begin to compare themselves with the others.

    Richard Feynman had a thing or two to say about PR and space. Quote:

    "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

    I hope NASA and SpaceX haven't forgotten that. And I hope that whoever volunteers to sit at the top of that thing doesn't forget it either and goes and takes a real close look at SpaceX's quality assurance procedures. As other people have pointed out SpaceX haven't got a good reputation for reliability yet. SpaceX have themselves admitted that their last failure was down to inadequate quality assurance. Have they really managed to fix all theirs problems of that sort in just 5 months? Hmmmmmm.

    1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: PR luvvie

      Arianna reliable.. sure now... just dont load a 5 with 4's software..... they tend to blow up then.

      Soyuz.. yupp reliable now, but it was developed in the era of the Soviet union.... and we all know how the successes of the soviet space program were blasted across the world and how the failures drowned in silence.

      But spaceX still have to do the inflight abort test, and prove that the strut issue is behind them by doing a few more launches.

      But rather them than the pork boondoggle that is Boeing's effort...

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: PR luvvie

        "But spaceX still have to do the inflight abort test, and prove that the strut issue is behind them by doing a few more launches."

        Sure, they have to get some successful flights off the ground, but there's more to it than that. The last flight failed because their quality assurance wasn't up to scratch. SpaceX said as much. If they've done nothing to change that, and merely decided to take a closer look at that strut, then no one knows what other problems are lurking in their manufacturing build chain. If they had poor quality assurance on struts, what else were they not looking at properly?

        Effectively the next few flights are a test of the processes they have for building a rocket, not really a test of the design itself. Once you've had a single successful launch (which they have), the design is proven. Every failure after that is down to the inability to control the build of that design, which is seemingly where SpaceX have been for some time now. And if they've still not got the right build quality assurance process then their rockets will continue to fall out of the sky.

        Of course, SpaceX aren't stupid and I'm sure they know this as well as anyone else. I hope that they have got on top of their process problems. If they haven't, someone will eventually have to call a halt to their activities if they haven't gone bust first. You can't keep launching rockets over people's heads without a satisfactory approach to quality control, not in this day and age.

        Russians

        The Russians are still learning things about the way they build their 1960s design. The routing of a pipeline was thought to be non-critical until quite recently. Then they built one where this pipe, purely by chance whim of the construction engineers on the day, shared a bracket with another. The fact that one of them was carrying a cryogenically cold fluid and would freeze the fluid in the other (the heat being conducted by the bracket) was something they discovered only after it failed and crashed... Needless to say the pipeline routing has been rethought.

        Arianne

        The first Arianne 5 suffered a navigation failure due to dodgy re-use of Arianne 4 software (the spec was fine, but the actual implementation didn't quite meet the spec. Very embarassing). It was blown up by the range safey system. They've had only 2 out of 83 outright launch failures, and those were both a long time ago in 2002. They've been sending them up regular as clockwork for years now, and from what I hear they very rarely suffer even 1 second of launch delay (except for weather).

        Commercially speaking Arianne is a rock-solid proposition; slightly more expensive than, say SpaceX, but your $billion satellite will get launched on time into the right orbit with the cheapest insurance premium in the business. That commercial certainty is worth a fortune to the companies that commission and operate satellites, far more than the actual cost of the launch (thought to be €100million for Ariane 5).

        All the time your satellite is sat on the ground waiting for the launcher guys to get their act together you're losing a monumental fortune in lost revenue, interest payments and programme costs. A cheap launch that's 6 months late is hugely expensive for the satellite owners.

        1. Beaver6813

          Re: PR luvvie

          "Once you've had a single successful launch (which they have), the design is proven."

          One successful launch or test does not prove the design as you may have been lucky that something operating very close to its limits didn't break/malfunction (imagine the number of variables that change between launches). A proven design requires more than a single successful test.

          1. bazza Silver badge

            Re: PR luvvie

            "One successful launch or test does not prove the design as you may have been lucky that something operating very close to its limits didn't break/malfunction (imagine the number of variables that change between launches). A proven design requires more than a single successful test."

            That's nonesense. If a launcher successfully makes it to orbit then it is successful. Everything else you're referring to is associated with poor quality control, poor manufacturing records, and a general inability to know what actually got built and launched. There's no room for luck in the space business, especially if you're going to ask someone to be launched into orbit on top of it.

            Dealing with poor quality assurance processes by building in extra margin is not an option for something as weight concious as a launcher. At least it isn't if you want it to be able to carry a worthwhile payload into orbit.

        2. Super Fast Jellyfish

          Ariane not Arianne or Arianna!

          Actually it was the software in a component (Laser gyro) that caused the failure rather than the main OBC software. Lots of detail here in the post failure report. https://www.ima.umn.edu/~arnold/disasters/ariane5rep.html

          It is an excellent case study in system design and re-use though.

      2. Martin Budden

        Re: PR luvvie

        But spaceX still have to do the inflight abort test

        The in-flight abort system was all installed for that most recent flight, such a shame it wasn't switched on, we'd have seen a real-world proof and the cargo would have been saved.

  2. Mage Silver badge

    riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown

    Total marketing lies as they have not enough launches.

    Now if ESA/CNES/Ariane was claiming this about Ariane launchers and Space Truck ... But then that's not American and Europe lets the Russians use their Spaceport.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown

      I remember reading a long time ago that Arianne was deliberately built with manned flight in mind. Whether that was a ruse to get the engineers to do a proper quality job or not I don't know, but the end result is certainly very impressive.

      There have been brief flirtations with ideas such as putting a mini-shuttle on top of an Arianne, but there's never been a strong enough financial / geopolitical reason to actually go ahead and do it. Russia's manned launcher is just too well established.

      Even the Americans are not strongly motivated politically to get back into putting men on rockets. They're doing it very slowly and always with a beady politician's eye on the budget.

    2. John Tserkezis

      Re: riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown

      "Total marketing lies as they have not enough launches."

      Isn't that the job of marketing? To spin something so it looks good to the target demographic?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown

      "riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown"

      The MiIllenium Falcon is a movie prop...

  3. saif

    Divide by zero error

    No fatalities from any manned missions != safest manned spacecraft if there have been no manned missions so far.

    Statement like that should be suffixed with "touch wood"

  4. Herbert Meyer
    Go

    ah, come on !

    Alright, Space Cadets. If SpaceX was handing out tickets for a free ride, you and me and the dog would be standing in line, risk of death notwithstanding. Sour grapes.

    1. RosslynDad
      Mushroom

      Re: ah, come on !

      You're right Herbert, but if my dog is going too then the ONLY way I'm flying is in a spacesuit with its own air supply - otherwise being unable to open a window to deal with her gaseous emissions would seriously impact my awe of the whole event.

      1. mosw

        Re: ah, come on !

        "being unable to open a window to deal with her gaseous emissions would seriously impact my awe of the whole event."

        That's what the in-flight abort system is for!

  5. Sandtitz Silver badge
    Coat

    "to carry up to seven astronauts or 6,000kg (13,228lbs) of cargo"

    Must be American astronauts then! How much is one Astronaut in KiloJubs?

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: 7 astronauts, 6 metric tons

      Aw, c'mon - it's not Ryanair, they can bring proper luggage.

    2. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Cargo doesn't need life support!

      Even pressurised cargo.

  6. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Money for nothing and the chips are free ..... that is the space gamble at the top of the tree

    If the cost to benefits equation was on the side of being real advantageous, would not a phormer wannabe world leading power, like what UKGBNI is, not be an active space rocket launching executive nation, rather than occasional pirate provider of private ballast and paying passengers?

    If existing burgeoning debt and constant deficit are that which be used to excuse pioneering participation, how come NASA and complicit partners still exist and seemingly prosper?

    Some might be starting to think that be their evolved raison d'etre in existing, .... to generate funding and prosperity, which is a nice trick and a certain kind of magic deed, indeed.

    Clock some interesting figures here ........ http://www.nationaldebtclocks.org ..... which speak volumes for themselves, and make a complete mockery of austere politics peddling pure bollocks.

    And a question to ask oneself is ....... To whom is debt owed and why is it paid if ever increasing with more borrowings added for requirements and retirements?

    1. twelvebore

      Re: Money for nothing and the chips are free ..... that is the space gamble at the top of the tree

      What?

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Money for nothing and the chips are free ..... that is the space gamble at the top of the tree

        What? …. twelvebore

        Success or failure doesn’t really matter in a virtually real imagined environment … and all space places are such an adventure. The name of the Great Game nowadays is to churn vast sums of cash money that only exist metaphysically in numbered accounts which are accessed and transacted electronically …… by machines.

        Be they your Masters of the Universe? :-)

    2. Hero Protagonist

      Re: Money for nothing and the chips are free ..... that is the space gamble at the top of the tree

      Wow, that is quite possibly the most understandable post ever made by @amanfrommars

      1. John Tserkezis

        Re: Money for nothing and the chips are free ..... that is the space gamble at the top of the tree

        "Wow, that is quite possibly the most understandable post ever made by @amanfrommars"

        No. Not at all. I didn't understand any part of it. I only downvoted, because it made my head hurt after reading it.

    3. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Money for nothing and the chips are free ..... that is the space gamble at the top of the tree

      For everybody's convenience I have tried to translate this one too into English. It begins

      "'twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and momble in the wabe".

      But after that my tablet went into an infinite reboot cycle.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Money for nothing and the chips are free ..... that is the space gamble at the top of the tree

        If Mark Carney and the City doesn't understand such a thing as those things which gamble in virtual spaces and ponzi market places which create debt bubbles and deficit spendings in the present to capture collapsing command and remote control of the future, is the pound fated to accompany the dollar on its current downward spiralling journey to practical worthlessness. ‽

        Capiche, Amigos/Товарищи? :-) Is that plain speaking enough to high fliers and bottom feeders alike?

    4. Tail Up
      Coat

      Re: Money for nothing and the chips are free ..... that is the space gamble at the top of the tree

      Chips Are Free is a great news. Logic&Rational LLC?

      "Welcome to Capitalised AIdDVenturism with Global Operating Devices" - is that/this where one can put one's coat?

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Money for nothing and the chips are free ..... that is the space gamble at the top of the tree

        "Welcome to Capitalised AIdDVenturism with Global Operating Devices" - is that/this where one can put one's coat? ...... Tail Up

        Yes, Tail Up, it sure is. Howdy.

        1. Tail Up

          Re: ... press Space to gamble

          Fine, and cutting, Mr. President. Ain't got no towel, though.

  7. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "It's that latter sentence that's key. Currently NASA has to go cap in hand to the Russians to get crew into space after retiring the Space Shuttle and failing to develop an alternative rocket system. Now it has both SpaceX and Boeing to do the job and can thumb its noses at Putin and pals."

    1. Better wait for that for a couple of years. Both SpaceX and Boeing have a long, long road ahead of them. As a fellow commentard pointed out, rocket engineering is the tricky bit.

    2. In an endeavour that is as difficult, costly and, last but not least, important as the ISS (and space exploration in general) 'thumbing noses' and the such has no place.

  8. cd

    Do it like Dupont...

    Put that NASA spokesperson and Elon on the first one.

  9. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Who thinks we should get Gwynne Shotwell to change her name to Gwynne Moonshot ?

  10. arctic_haze Silver badge

    Isaac Asimov on the subject of rocket fuel

    "Now, it is clear that anyone working with rocket fuels is outstandingly mad. I don't mean garden-variety crazy or merely raving lunatic. I mean a record-shattering exponent of far-out insanity.

    There are, after all, some chemicals that explode shatteringly, some that flame ravenously, some that corrode hellishly, some that poison sneakily, and some that stink stenchily. As far as I know, though, only liquid rocket fuels have all these delightful properties combined into one delectable whole."

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: Isaac Asimov on the subject of rocket fuel

      Only the original von Braun "Hydrazin und, und... Salpertersäure! SALPETERSÄURE, Herr Müller. HABEN SIE VERSTANDEN, Herr Müller?" have these properties.

      LOX/H2 or LOX/KEROSENE are pretty ok.

      1. arctic_haze Silver badge

        Re: Isaac Asimov on the subject of rocket fuel

        But still the quote is popular among the rocket scientists (the actual ones!).

        I've first see the quote on the door of someone in ESTEC (the ESA center in Holland).

      2. Francis Vaughan

        Re: Isaac Asimov on the subject of rocket fuel

        "LOX/H2 or LOX/KEROSENE are pretty ok."

        You are welcome to drink a cup of either.

        The cannonical book of liquid rocket fuels is Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants by John D. Clark.

        If you want insane rocket fuel oxidisers - try Chlorine trifluoride. It will burn asbestos, sand and concrete. Glass ignites on contact. It isn't clear how you would die if you had some spilled on you, it would be a matter of which of a number of horrific and painful mechanisms got you first.

        1. Francis Vaughan

          Re: Isaac Asimov on the subject of rocket fuel

          And to follow up my recommendation for Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants, I got a copy down, and guess what? The Asimov quote is from the forward, written by Asimov. Asimov knew John Clark as a fellow chemist and SF writer.

        2. arctic_haze Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Isaac Asimov on the subject of rocket fuel

          "The cannonical book of liquid rocket fuels is Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants by John D. Clark."

          The Asimov quote is from the introduction to this very book.

          1. hplasm Silver badge
            Unhappy

            Re: Isaac Asimov on the subject of rocket fuel

            "Hey, we could use it to fix the glass rain on the exoplanet that's been getting so much attention."

            Great- now the glass rain is on fire... I'm not going out.

        3. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: Isaac Asimov on the subject of rocket fuel

          "Glass ignites on contact."

          Hey, we could use it to fix the glass rain on the exoplanet that's been getting so much attention.

          1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

            Re: Isaac Asimov on the subject of rocket fuel

            ITT: LOX is actually dangerous. Who knew?

            Also:

            "Ignition! An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants by John D. Clark."

            ...freely available on the Interwebs!

      3. Me19713
        Mushroom

        Re: Isaac Asimov on the subject of rocket fuel

        Ever spill some LOX on asphalt pavement?

        Try it. Let me know how you make out.

        1. imanidiot Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: Isaac Asimov on the subject of rocket fuel

          "Ever spill some LOX on asphalt pavement?

          Try it. Let me know IF you make it out."

          FTFY

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Crazy Fuel

    SpaceX is using the same highly unstable volitile fuel only the Nazi were crazy enough to actually use.

    Some people never learn.

    1. Francis Vaughan

      Re: Crazy Fuel

      ¿Que? They use LOX and RP-1. Same as the Saturn V 1st stage. V2 used LOX and ethanol. M163B used hydrazine and hydrogen peroxide. There is nothing about the Nazi era fuels that is unusual either. Hydrazine is a very popular fuel, it even powers the APU in an F16 fighter.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Get a clue

    The last entity I would trust to transport astronauts is SpaceX. Let Elon Musk test the journey a half-dozen times and then we'll discuss the subject again.

  13. imanidiot Silver badge

    Before SpaceX gets all jubilant

    Lets see a few more succesful unmanned launched just yet. To show they actually nixed their quality control problems. Because if an internal strut fails at half its rated load, and you subsequently find it's a miracle it didn't happen sooner (IE, pretty much none of the articles on your production line meet specs) by golly do you have a problem! And a quality problem like that doesn't make me confident for the rest of the QA system either.

  14. ChaosFreak

    Boeing = Russian Rocket

    Hmmm.... I'm glad NASA is excited to have "two American companies" who can put people into space without going "hat in hand" to the Russians, but unfortunately one of those companies, Boeing, buys 40-year-old rocket motors from Russia, so... better hang on to that hat the next time Russia decides it wants some of its old Soviet territory back and we decide to impose sanctions.

    1. cray74

      Re: Boeing = American Rocket

      "but unfortunately one of those companies, Boeing, buys 40-year-old rocket motors from Russia, "

      Are you thinking of the Atlas V, built by Lockheed Martin, or Antares from Orbital Sciences? The Atlas V uses newly built Rooskie RD-180s while the Antares uses 40-year old Soviet NK-33s. The Boeing-built Delta IV uses purely 'Murican engines.

      As far as I know - corrections welcome - Boeing only gets involved with Russian engines through the joint Boeing-Lockheed United Launch Alliance, which operates Atlas V's (and Delta IVs). But the ULA isn't a rocket builder, it's a launch services company.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The first Briton in space

    Project Juno was a private space programme, which selected Helen Sharman to be the first Briton in space. A private consortium was formed to raise money to pay the USSR for a seat on a Soyuz mission to the Mir space station. The USSR had recently flown Toyohiro Akiyama, a Japanese journalist, by a similar arrangement.

    A call for applicants was publicized in the UK and Sharman was chosen for the flight with Major Timothy Mace as her backup. The cost of the flight was to be funded by various innovative schemes, including sponsoring by private British companies and a lottery system. Corporate sponsors included British Aerospace, Memorex, and Interflora, and television rights were sold to ITV.

    Ultimately the Juno consortium failed to raise the entire sum, and the USSR considered canceling the mission. It is believed that Mikhail Gorbachev directed the mission to proceed at Soviet cost.

    Sharman was launched aboard Soyuz TM-12 on 18 May 1991, and returned aboard Soyuz TM-11 on 26 May 1991.

  16. nilfs2
    Joke

    Why not ask for an Uber?

    How long until Uber offers the service?

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