In the Jan. 17 issue, O. Glenn Smith attacks the notion of private, commercial human launches [“Unintended Consequences for NASA,” page 19].
First, he suggests that they cannot be safe enough; presumably only government-developed systems can be safe. Unfortunately for this argument, the space shuttle has a failure rate well over 1 percent after claiming a 1-in-100,000 failure rate during development.
He then claims there is no market beyond taking astronauts to the international space station, when in fact there are more willing tourists with money in their pockets than the Soyuz can fly, and Robert Bigelow is waiting in the wings to launch his private space station.
Smith then goes after cost, perhaps unaware that the entire Falcon 9 development cost less than the gantry for the Ares 1, which will never reach orbit.
NASA is a fantastic organization that has done great things and will continue to do so. However, NASA’s days of taking people to low Earth orbit are nearly over. Repeated attempts to develop a new launch vehicle over the last 20 years have never made it to orbit, and the Columbia Accident Investigation Board wisely recommended retirement of the shuttle in 2010.
It is time for the private sector to step up. The president is on the side of free enterprise in space, and there are vehicles with perfect launch records ready to come forward. There will eventually be accidents, of course, but the shuttle’s history strongly suggests that a government-developed system would be no safer and certainly would be far more expensive.
Capitola , Calif.