SpaceX Forms Safety Advisory Panel for Commercial Crew

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has announced the formation of a safety advisory board to assess the company's human space flight efforts. Photo Credit: Alan Walters /

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), the builder of the Falcon family of rockets and Dragon spacecraft, has announced the creation of a safety advisory panel for commercial, crewed space flight. SpaceX is one of the private companies that are working to return U.S. astronauts to orbit. SpaceX is developing its Dragon spacecraft to be used to ferry crews to the International Space Station (ISS). 

SpaceX has decided to assemble a team of outside experts to ensure that the systems that the company is developing are safe.

SpaceX produces the Falcon 9 launch vehicle which is being used under the $1.6 billion Commercial Orbital Transportation Services or “COTS” contract that the private space firm has with NASA.

The Safety Advisory Panel will convene in the fall of 2012 and is comprised of some of the space industry’s leading experts. They are tasked with providing an objective assessment of the safety of both the Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket. The panel will continue to assist SpaceX as the firm prepares to launch crews into orbit.


Video courtesy of SpaceX

SpaceX has signed a $75 million contract with NASA to develop an integrated launch abort system for the Dragon spacecraft. This system, known as “SuperDraco”, is built into the sides of the spacecraft itself, can be used on orbit as a type of reaction control system – and is reusable. Many conventional launch abort systems are disposed of when the spacecraft reaches orbit.

“When it comes to manned spaceflight, safety is our top priority,” said SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer, Elon Musk. “These experts will provide us with important insights as we prepare to carry astronauts on the next generation of American spacecraft.”

About the Members: 

Photo Credit: NASA

Leroy Chiao, PhD 

Dr. Chiao served as a NASA astronaut from July 1991 until December of 2005. During that time he qualified for flight assignments as a Space Station commander, Space Station science officer and Space Shuttle mission specialist. Chiao also served as chief of the Astronaut Office EVA Branch. A veteran of four spaceflights, he flew as a mission specialist on STS-65, STS-72 and STS-92, flew to and from the ISS as Flight Engineer on a Russian Soyuz, and was the commander and NASA science officer on Expedition-10. Chiao logged a total of 229 days in space, including 36 hours and 7 minutes of EVA time in six space walks. He has received numerous awards including NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal.  Chiao served as a member of the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, chaired by Norm Augustine.

Photo Credit: SpaceX

G. Scott Hubbard 

Dr. Hubbard has been engaged in space-related research for over 35 years including 20 years with NASA culminating as director of NASA’s Ames Research Center. In 2003, he was the sole NASA representative on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board where he directed impact testing analysis that established the definitive physical cause of the loss of the Columbia. Hubbard was NASA’s first Mars program director and successfully restructured the Mars program in the wake of mission failures. He is the founder of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, conceived the Mars Pathfinder mission and was manager for NASA’s Lunar Prospector Mission.  Hubbard has received many honors including NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal. He is currently a professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University, where his research focuses on planetary exploration and the emerging entrepreneurial space industry. Hubbard serves as the Director of the Stanford Center of Excellence for Commercial Space Transportation.

Photo Credit: SpaceX

Richard T. Jennings, MD

Dr. Jennings served as flight surgeon at NASA-JSC from 1987-1995, as chief of the Flight Medicine Clinic, and as chief of Medical Operations-Space Shuttle. He was crew surgeon or deputy crew surgeon on 14 Shuttle missions and provided mission support to 45 Shuttle flights. In 1995, he joined the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston where he directs the UTMB/NASA-JSC aerospace medicine residency program and coordinates the Wyle Integrated Sciences and Engineering/UTMB physicians that support NASA spaceflight operations, advanced medical projects, and research at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, NASA-JSC, and the Flight Analog Research Unit at UTMB. He is the lead flight surgeon for Space Adventures and consults in commercial suborbital spaceflight with Virgin Galactic. Jennings is a principal investigator for UTMB in the FAA Center of Excellence in Commercial Space Transportation.

Photo Credit: NASA

Mark E. Kelly, Captain, USN 

Captain Kelly served as a NASA astronaut from August of 1996 until October of 2011. His first trip into space was as pilot of STS-108, when Endeavour lifted off on December 5, 2001. In July 2006, Kelly served as pilot for STS-121 aboard Discovery, the second “Return to Flight” mission following the loss of Columbia in February 2003 in a mission that tested new safety and repair techniques introduced following the Columbia disaster. STS-124, aboard Discovery, was Kelly’s first mission as commander. Kelly was also the commander of the STS-134 mission, which was Space Shuttle Endeavour’s last flight. A Captain in the U.S. Navy, Kelly logged more than 6,000 hours in more than 50 different aircraft and has over 375 carrier landings.

Photo Credit: NASA

Edward Lu, PhD

Dr. Lu served as a NASA astronaut from March of 1995 until August of 2007. A veteran of three space missions, Lu has logged over 206 days in space, including an EVA totaling 6 hours and 14 minutes. Lu was the first American to launch as the flight engineer of a Soyuz spacecraft and the first American to launch and land on a Soyuz spacecraft (Soyuz TMA-2). As flight engineer and NASA ISS science officer, Lu spent a 6-month tour of duty aboard the International Space Station maintaining ISS systems and overseeing science operations. Lu received numerous commendations including NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal. After leaving NASA, Lu joined Google, where he led the Advanced Projects Group responsible for imaging for Google Street View and Google Maps/Earth, book scanning technology and innovative energy projects.

SpaceX has announced a number of plans for a wide range of space xploration initatives. From a heavy version of the Falcon launch vehicle dubbed the Falcon X along with plans for a manned mission to Mars have all been unveiled. Each of these initiaties is very complex and having an independent panel in place will help to ensure that safe procedures and practices are installed and maintained.

“We hope that this panel will help us in our quest to produce the world’s safest human spaceflight system,” said SpaceX’s Director of Communications Kirstin Brost. “We are fortunate to have such an impressive team willing to help us in that endeavor.”


Video courtesy of SpaceX

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