Space

Hadfield on Virgin Galactic: "Eventually they'll crash one"

Hadfield on Virgin Galactic: "...
Chris Hadfield in his time aboard the ISS (Image: Canadian Space Agency)
Chris Hadfield in his time aboard the ISS (Image: Canadian Space Agency)
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Chris Hadfield in his time aboard the ISS (Image: Canadian Space Agency)
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Chris Hadfield in his time aboard the ISS (Image: Canadian Space Agency)

It's easy, too easy, perhaps, to naysay incredibly ambitious plans, and they don't come much more ambitious than Virgin Galactic's mission to send commercial passengers into space. But Chris Hadfield has some authority on the subject of space, having been there himself on three occasions, most recently for 5 months aboard the International Space Station. In a lengthy interview given to The Guardian, Hadfield discusses Virgin Galactic (among many other things), and though his views are nuanced, they nevertheless come with this sobering assessment: "Eventually they'll crash one."

The quote comes in a passage of the interview devoted to commercial space flight, in which Hadfield points out that, what with the space shuttle having been built by Rockwell, and the ISS being run by Boeing, that space flight "has always been commercial." The Guardian's Emma Brockes logically follows up with a question about Virgin Galactic, asking "What of [Richard] Branson's plan to launch Paris Hilton into space?" – a reference to Hilton being among the celebrities higher up the waiting list.

"I'm all for the idea," he says. "I commend him for it. But it's not much of a space flight. I'm not sure that she knows what she's paying for. She may think she's going to be Sandra Bullock, see the universe and stars whipping by. None of that's happening. They're just going to go up and fall back down again. They'll get a few minutes of weightlessness, and they'll see the black of the universe. And they'll see the curve of the Earth and the horizon, because they'll be above the air. But whether that'll be enough for the quarter-million-dollar price tag? I don't know."

"Eventually they'll crash one," he adds. "Because it's hard. They're discovering how hard. They wanted to fly years ago and faced a lot of obstacles, but he's a brave entrepreneur and I hope he succeeds. The more people who can see the world this way, the better off we are."

There are clues as to why Hadfield has formed this opinion earlier on in the piece in a passage about his new book, An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth. "No aeroplane you've ever gotten into had less than thousands of flights before they took their first passenger. Thousands," says Hadfield. "Because vehicles are unsafe at first. We only flew the shuttle 135 times total. Every single flight was a radical test flight. With really high stakes."

This shouldn't necessarily be read as an indictment of Virgin Galactic's technology or plans. The company has made significant progress towards commercial passenger space flight since its inception, and describes safety as the company's "North Star." One hopes that anyone on Virgin Galactic's waiting list is aware of the inherent risk which, for now at least, remains associated with space flight.

The interview can be read in full at The Guardian's website.

Source: The Guardian

26 comments
BeWalt
He's 100% right with all he said and he will so be bashed for saying these things. Lean back and watch. Reality is not what people want to learn about.
rednekroketsci
Its disappointing to see a single comment blown out of context. Must be a slow news day.
christopher
135 flights. 2 total disasters killing all. sobering odds.
nutcase
Crashing. If Challenger and Columbia can do it so can Virgin Galactic.
Nairda
There is risk in everything. Failure is an opportunity to learn. And frankly, with a private enterprise that has a lot more to loose, they will likely not cut many corners.
John Hogan
It's hilarious to note that the Russians, with their old school gear, have easily the best record. Simple, low performance, reliable. The shuttle was impressive but ultimately it was a wasteful dead end that NASA didn't want. If NASA had gotten the rocket-topping, small space planes they'd wanted, we be a lot further ahead by now. Sad but true.
duh3000
"failure is an opportunity to learn"... unless you're dead.
Captain Danger
@john I believe that the Russians have had their share of mishaps. I also don't think that there issues have been fully disclosed. Esp during the space race. NASA did everything out in the open for the world to see. We only learn of Russian exploits after the fact.
Slowburn
So Virgin Galactic will crash a rocket plane, if it was perfectly safe it would not be worth the price. Unlike Asiana the crash won't be because the pilots had forgotten how to fly the plane.
ClubDoug
Agree with Slowburn, if they did thousands of test flights before actual passenger flights the cost would then be astronomical (or even more astronomical I should say!). And true that commercial aircraft do so much testing before accepting passengers. I live in Cairns Australia and Jetstar have just taken delivery of Australia's first 787 Dreamliner, which they are doing test flights between Melbourne and Cairns every day for a full month before passenger services commence, despite the fact the aircraft is already operating on commercial routes outside of Australia. So it certainly would be reassuring to see Virgin's rocket plane clock up a few more test flights before going on it, however I think the risk of what could go wrong is also one of the factors that make it exciting for the first flights to go up.