It is an important week for US space travel. Namely, SpaceX, Elon Musk’s commercial space company, is about to launch its first human spaceflight for NASA. Despite years of testing, it still remains a risky operation. This is also evident from NASA’s calculations about the chances that things will go wrong for their two astronauts.
The United States was once the dominant force in international space travel, but has not been for some time. Since the Space Shuttles were taken out of service in 2011, the US has been unable to bring people to space. All the while, NASA uses Russian Soyuz rockets to fly to the International Space Station (ISS). That should finally change this week.
Collaboration NASA and SpaceX
About ten years ago, the American space agency NASA launched the “Commercial Crew Program”. The intention was to develop a space program together with private partners. One of those partners, in addition to Boeing, among others, is SpaceX from entrepreneur Elon Musk. NASA has already paid them more than $ 3.1 billion (2.85 billion euros) in all that time.
But that money paid off, because SpaceX seems ready to take Americans to space. The company passed a very important emergency test in January and was then instructed to prepare for a manned flight. Last week, after two final tests, NASA finally finally turned the green light.
Historical flight to ISS
If the weather does not throw a spanner in the works, the historic flight – named Demo-2 – will take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral in Florida on Wednesday at 10:33 PM Belgian time. It is a reusable Falcon 9 rocket with a Crew Dragon capsule in which the astronauts will be seated. Currently there is a 40 percent chance that the weather is good enough.
After launch, the Falcon-9 missile returns to Earth and the Crew Dragon capsule flies to the ISS. The astronauts will stay there for 110 days, after which they will return home with the Crew Dragon.
NASA selected astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley for the Demo-2 mission. The experienced astronauts each went to space twice with a Space Shuttle. They both spent about 700 hours in space.
Their experience will be necessary, because despite all safety tests it remains a risky business. It is almost 40 years ago that NASA last enlisted a new manned spaceship. “We’ll stay hungry until Bob and Doug are back home,” Kathy Lueders, who manages the Commercial Crew Program for NASA, said at a news conference on Friday.
The US space agency calculated the probability of the mission going wrong. NASA distinguishes loss-of-mission (LOM) from loss-of-crew (LOC). In the first case, the mission goes wrong, but the astronauts survive, in the second, the astronauts die. NASA informs the website NewsABC.net that the chance of an LOM in this space flight is 1 in 60. The chance of the crew dying is 1 in 276, or 0.36 percent.
“I think we are very comfortable with it,” astronaut Behnken tells NewsABC.net about those risks. He and his colleague spent five years working with SpaceX on the Crew Dragon capsule to be ready for any scenario that could go wrong. “It has become increasingly safe and we really appreciate that. It is wonderful to see how all previous unmanned missions have contributed to this manned space flight. ”