Leroy Chiao. Credit: NASA

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX), Hawthorne, Calif., will pay five former NASA officials to  regularly advise the company on astronaut safety issues, the company said in a March 29 press release.

Dubbed the Safety Advisory Panel, the group of human spaceflight experts “will provide objective assessments of the safety of the Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to help SpaceX maintain the highest levels of safety,” SpaceX said in the release.

“These experts will provide us with important insights as we prepare to carry astronauts on the next generation of American spacecraft,” Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive, said in the release.

The panel, which SpaceX spokeswoman Kirstin Grantham said is being paid for its services, includes former astronauts Leroy Chiao, Mark Kelly and Edward Lu; former Ames Research Center Director Scott Hubbard; and Richard Jennings, Johnson Space Center’s former chief of medicine.

Chiao, who went to work for the commercial human spaceflight venture Excalibur Almaz after leaving NASA in 2005, served on the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee in 2009. Hubbard, a consulting professor at Stanford University, was the sole NASA representative on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

“The panel will commence with a face-to-face kickoff meeting in the third quarter of 2012,” Grantham wrote in a March 29 email. “Follow-on meetings will be held twice annually and members will participate in and provide input to technical reviews on an ongoing basis.”

SpaceX is pitching its Falcon 9 and Dragon space capsule to NASA as a means of transporting astronauts to the international space station. SpaceX has received financial aid from NASA to develop a launch-abort system for Dragon, a key capability needed for a crewed version of the cargo capsule.