AmericaSpace Exclusive: Interview With SpaceX Safety Panel Member Ed Lu

Former shuttle astronaut Ed Lu is part of a five-person Safety Advisory Panel that has been formed to review SpaceX's launch vehicles, spacecraft and procedures. Image Credit: SpaceX

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has recently announced the formation of an independent safety advisory panel. The company has several space initiatives underway besides the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services or COTS contract that the firm has with NASA. Several aerospace experts have been gathered to form an all-star team to review SpaceX’s spacecraft, launch vehicles and procedures. The panel includes former shuttle astronauts Mark Kelly, Leroy Chiao, Ed Lu, G. Scott Hubbard and Richard T. Jennings.

AmericaSpace caught up with former NASA astronaut Ed Lu and asked him about his role in the advisory panel and why he decided to join the team. Lu flew into space three times. His first flight was on space shuttle Atlantis on the STS-84 mission in 1997, his second, STS-106, also on Atlantis, took place in 2000. Lu flew into space for the last time on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft with the Soyuz TMA-2 flight. Lu was then a member of the Expedition 7 crew where he served as the expedition’s flight engineer.

Lu's first mission into space was STS-84, which thundered to orbit aboard space shuttle Atlantis in 1997. Photo Credit: NASA

AmericaSpaceHi Ed, thanks for chatting with us today!

Lu – “My Pleasure.”

AmericaSpaceHow were you approached in terms of joining the panel? 

Lu – “SpaceX approached me about joining the panel.”

Ed Lu has an extensive background in space flight and engineering - a trait that made him a prime candidate to be a member of SpaceX's Safety Advisory Panel. Photo Credit: NASA

AmericaSpaceWhat interested you most about this effort?

Lu – “It was a chance to see what they are doing, and hopefully contribute to their success. I think commercial human spaceflight is crucial to continued development of space.”

AmericaSpace – Which of your skills do you feel will be most beneficial to the panel’s tasks?

Lu – “I think having flown both Space Shuttle and Soyuz provides me with a unique perspective. There is more than one way to skin a cat.”

Lu has thundered to orbit on both the space shuttle (both of his flights were on shuttle Atlantis) and the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA

AmericaSpaceWill the different members of the panel split off to check out different aspects of SpaceX’s programs – or will this be a team effort?

Lu – “We haven’t had our first organizational meeting yet, that’s scheduled to take place this fall, so I really don’t know how the work will be handled just yet.”

AmericaSpaceAccording to SpaceX the panel will be an on-going element of SpaceX’s space exploration initiatives – will new members be brought in? If so, what types of skills are being sought out?

Lu – “That also is something that will be brought up when we have our first organizational meeting.” 

Given the range of launch vehicles and space flight hardware that Lu has experience with, his views should carry a lot of weight when the panel convenes this fall. Photo Credit: NASA

AmericaSpaceHow much autonomy will the panel have and how much weight will the decisions your team make – carry?

Lu – “We will be autonomous, but our recommendations are advisory only.”

AmericaSpaceWhat are your personal hopes this panel will provide SpaceX?

Lu – “One of the lessons of Columbia was the importance of having a truly independent review body that can state their opinions freely. I hope we can provide this perspective to SpaceX.”

AmericaSpace –  SpaceX is working to launch crews to the International Space Station in the near future – could we one day see a mission with you as a member of the crew?

Lu – “It would be fun to fly in space again. I would love to buy tickets one day and share the experience with my family.”

AmericaSpaceThanks for taking the time to talk with AmericaSpace.

Lu – “Thanks for having me!”

Lu said that he is interested in contributing to the future of human space exploration - of which he feels commercial space is a crucial element. Photo Credit: NASA

SpaceX is currently planning to launch one of the firm’s Dragon spacecraft atop their Falcon 9 launch vehicle on April 30 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) located in Florida. The launch window opens at 12:22 p.m. This flight could, potentially see two of the COTS demonstration flights combined into one.

SpaceX requested to have the requirements of the COTS 2 and COTS 3 demonstration flights carried out on one mission. NASA approved the request. This means that not only will the Dragon spacecraft rendezvous with the International Space Station, a history-making event in and of itself – but it also could be grappled by the station’s robotic arm and berthed to the orbiting laboratory.

The COTS contract is a $1.6 billion effort to hand off delivery of cargo to the ISS to commercial firms. Under this agreement SpaceX needs to fly three demonstration flights and nine resupply missions to the ISS.

SpaceX is preparing to launch this Falcon 9 rocket wih one of the commercial space firm's Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station on April 30. Photo Credit: Alan Walters /
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