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.
AmericaSpace – Hi Ed, thanks for chatting with us today!
Lu – “My Pleasure.”
AmericaSpace – How were you approached in terms of joining the panel?
Lu – “SpaceX approached me about joining the panel.”
AmericaSpace – What 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.”
AmericaSpace – Will 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.”
AmericaSpace –According 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.”
AmericaSpace – How 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.”
AmericaSpace – What 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.”
AmericaSpace – Thanks for taking the time to talk with AmericaSpace.
Lu – “Thanks for having me!”
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.