Do space tourists really understand the risks? Who can guarantee their safe return?


Isaacman, commander of SpaceX’s first purely commercial manned mission “inspiration 4”, said that training by fighter is much more dangerous than traveling in space.
2 it is about three times safer to take SpaceX manned dragon spacecraft than NASA space shuttle, and the risk of fatal disaster in the early space shuttle is as high as 1 / 9.
3 the probability of disaster in inspiration 4 mission is about 1 / 300, while the risk of Americans dying in a car accident is about 1 / 107.
At present, the space tourism industry has neither government safety supervision nor self supervision, and they do not have any historical records to prove that their technology is safe enough.
Today’s space tourists need to sign informed consent to show that they are willing to accept any accidents that may occur during the mission.
Tencent technology news on September 30, the spaceship that takes space tourists for space tourism may be the only transportation technology that may cause death without independent safety certification. For now, many space tourists seem to accept this risk, but is this fledgling industry playing a dangerous game?
The day before the launch on September 15, the four crew members of SpaceX’s first purely commercial manned mission, inspiration 4, looked relaxed. They want to know how to take a rocket filled with explosive fuel, stay in a sealed capsule and go to empty space.
SpaceX’s first purely commercial manned mission “inspiration 4” crew returned to earth, ending their three-day space trip aboard the manned dragon spacecraft
Technology entrepreneur Jared Isaacman funded the flight and was the commander of the mission. He claimed that the risk of accidents may be higher when the crew fly fighter planes during training.
“In the past few days, we have been flying in the air in fighter planes, which I think is much higher than the risk of entering space. Therefore, we feel very comfortable when we are fixed on the manned dragon flying ship,” Isaacman said
How dangerous is space flight?
But how high is the risk of death on a space mission? Phil McAlister, commercial space director of NASA, said in an interview that it is about three times safer to take the SpaceX manned dragon spacecraft than the NASA space shuttle. In the last few years of space shuttle operation, due to the increase of safety inspection and awareness, space shuttle flight is in the safest period.
McAllister added: “we can now add a lot of additional technology, and the manned Dragon Ship provides suspension capability we don’t have. All this increases the possibility of your successful mission.” what does he mean? Teri Hamlin, technical director in charge of probabilistic risk assessment of the space shuttle at NASA Johnson Space Center, revealed in 2011 that the risk of fatal disasters on the early space shuttle was as high as one in nine.
When the space shuttle retired in 2011, the whole fleet lost two aircraft in catastrophic accidents, and the risk decreased 10 times to about 1 / 90. If this figure and McAllister’s inference are correct, the probability of catastrophic accident of inspiration 4 mission is about 1 / 300. In fact, NASA suffered only two fatal accidents in 135 shuttle flights. The Challenger accident in 1986 and the Columbia tragedy in 2003 killed seven astronauts respectively.
Blue origin successfully conducted its first manned suborbital flight in July 2021
In contrast, according to data provided by the National Security Council (NSC), the average lifetime risk of Americans dying in aircraft accidents is 1 / 205552. On the other hand, the lifetime risk of dying in a car accident in the United States is about 1 / 107. However, many experts warn that unprecedented changes are taking place in space tourism, which may increase the risk of space tourists dying in fatal accidents.
No one is really responsible for the safety of space tourists
Tommaso sgobba, executive director of the International Association for the promotion of space security (iaass) and former head of flight safety of the European Space Agency (ESA), said: “the problem is that the current space tourism industry has neither government safety supervision nor self-supervision, and they do not have any historical records to prove that their technology is safe enough.”
From hair dryers and microwave ovens to automobiles, airplanes and roller coasters, any modern electrical appliance or equipment must first obtain the safety certification of independent institutions to prove that its design meets the independently set safety standards before it can enter the market. The purpose of these certifications is to ensure that efforts have been made to minimize the risk of these technologies hurting users and to ensure that anyone outside the company can believe that these technologies are safe.
However, the US Congress suspended safety regulations in 2004, which means that space tourism companies need to bear less safety responsibility than we thought.
Josef Koller, systems director of the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for space policy and strategy, said: “After very successful lobbying by the industry, the suspension of the ban is to let the industry learn and progress. The law stipulates that the focus should be on the development of best practices and voluntary standards, which may eventually lead to the implementation of regulation. But so far, there is not much that can be done.”
At present, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires commercial space companies to prove that their operations on the ground (or in the air) will not pose a risk to the public. However, a spokesman for the agency said in an e-mail that the FAA did not supervise the safety records of these space companies, nor did it prove whether the launch and entry of aircraft were safe for humans.

FAA public affairs expert Steve Kulm said in an email: “According to federal law, the FAA’s commercial space transportation supervision responsibility is to protect the safety of the ground public and other public using the national airspace system, rather than the safety of individuals in spacecraft. In fact, Congress has prohibited the FAA from supervising the safety of crew members or space flight participants. In addition, Congress has not authorized the FAA to prove that the launch or re-entry aircraft are safe to the atmosphere Whether it is safe to carry humans. ”
On July 11, 2021, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson entered the edge of space in a suborbital spacecraft and soared like superman in weightlessness
However, kurm added that space companies must prove that their technology can operate safely during test flights in order to obtain FAA permission and carry humans.
Does strict regulation mean stifling innovation?
Karina drees, President of the commercial spaceflight Federation, which represents space tourism companies, said that early regulation could stifle innovation in fledgling industries and hinder the development of the best technologies.
“I think this is the concern of many people. If we regulate too early, the best technology is likely not to appear. Fortunately, the cars designed today are very different from each other. Therefore, if the regulation is for any car type, it will really prevent many car designs from entering the market,” she said
In view of this, today’s space tourists need to sign an informed consent form to indicate any accidents that may occur during their mission. Drees said: “This is one of the reasons why the United States has become great, that is, it can make its own choices. Americans can choose whether to go diving, skydiving or sex change surgery, which is not strictly regulated. All these are carried out under the requirement of informed consent.”
“Tombstone technology” in the early aviation field
On December 17, 1903, the aircraft controlled by Orville Wright made its first powered flight in North Carolina
Danielle Bernstein, chief director of the federal program of the Aerospace Corporation, said that the situation in the field of commercial manned spaceflight was similar to that in the early decades of the aviation industry. She said: “When the Wright brothers finally figured out flight and entered the early 20th century, we did not have much commercial flight, but more military and exploratory research. However, in the middle and late 20th century, there were more flight related things. However, there was still not much supervision, so many accidents occurred.”
The methods adopted by early aviation pioneers are sometimes described as “flight repair flight”, or as “tombstone technology” described by Tommaso sgobba, executive director of the International Association for the promotion of space safety (iaass) and former head of flight safety of the European Space Agency (ESA).
Sgoba said: “Early people would make machines, fly them, wait for accidents, and then investigate. If they found that there were problems with this technology, they would learn from it and repair it. Unlike early pilots, space tourism companies did not develop their technology from scratch. Government funded institutions, such as NASA or Roscosmos, have accumulated experience Decades of experience can deal with the risks associated with sending goods or people into space.
On November 1, 2014, images captured by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) showed the debris left by the disintegration of Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo commercial space shuttle during flight
“Over the past 40 years, the approach adopted by the space industry has always focused on performance requirements and fault tolerance. For example, your design should not allow any human error to lead to disaster. But if you look at the Virgin Galactic crash in 2014, you will find that this is what happened.”
On October 31, 2014, Virgin Galactic encountered a fatal accident while testing the rocket power of its commercial space shuttle SpaceShipTwo. During the test flight, the aircraft crashed, resulting in the death of one pilot and serious injury to another. In subsequent investigation, NTSB found that the Virgin Galactic crash was caused by the early release of the SpaceShipTwo tail plume, which was designed to slow and stabilize the passage of the spacecraft The rate of descent of a sphere in the atmosphere.
In July this year, Virgin Galactic successfully conducted its first manned space flight, and its billionaire founder Richard Branson Boarded the plane. Virgin Galactic’s VSS unity spacecraft deviated from the approved orbit and entered the surrounding airspace, where it may endanger the safety of passengers aboard commercial aircraft. This incident led the FAA to suspend Virgin Galactic’s flight until the investigation was completed. Therefore, the company had to suspend its second manned flight scheduled for late September or early October. However, the The company is still selling tickets to suborbital space at a price of $450000 per seat.
Sgoba questioned whether the stimulation of space travel would be enough to meet the needs of space enthusiasts (and many boring rich people) if some of these “ordinary people” died in the adventure. Sgoba said: “I think once someone starts to die, the space tourism market will evaporate, just like the Concorde. The Concorde is a luxury flight from Paris to New York. But after the accident, people lose interest in it. Although the company has solved the problem, it is difficult to attract passengers.”
Independent review
According to sgoba, the Virgin Galactic space plane is inherently more dangerous than the new Shepard of blue origin or the manned dragon spacecraft of SpaceX. It is more dependent on human factors and should not be tested without human pilot supervision. Sgoba said: “Virgin Galactic has more problems, because even if safety critical mechanisms are in place, problems always exist.”

Blue origin shared information about its security methods in a video on its website. The representative of the company emphasized the method of multiple redundancy and should ensure that no key system will fail without backup. SpaceX benefited from cooperation with NASA in the development of its manned system. The company has a contract to transport NASA astronauts to and from the international space station, so it must meet NASA’s strict safety standards.
Nevertheless, sgoba questioned some of SpaceX’s practices. “In order to carry out inspiration 4 mission, SpaceX replaced the interface on the manned dragon flying ship with this beautiful dome module. But my question is, has anyone outside the project reviewed this change to ensure the safety of the vehicle?”
Sgoba explained: “Before NASA, the European space agency or other space agencies launch anything into space, they will conduct a flight readiness review. The independence of the review team is a key requirement to make its findings effective. During such a review, each part will be carefully checked to minimize the possibility of problems. But who is responsible for reviewing SpaceX What about the changes made by inspiration 4? Has musk agreed? This will be the first time in the history of technologically advanced industry that one person, the owner, will make a final decision on such activities. ”
Again, in the current regulatory environment, no one questions these audit procedures.
What happens next?
The 2004 US Congress bill to suspend the safety supervision of space tourism will expire in 2023, but it is still unclear what will happen next.
Drees said that the commercial aerospace Federation has always been working with ASTM International to develop guidelines, and has issued recommendations on fault tolerance and data exchange to support the integration of space operations into air traffic management and safety incident classification. When asked whether the industry is ready to accept stricter regulation after 2023, she said she doesn’t think so. ‘it’s still at an early stage and regulation will hinder innovation,’ she said.
In the foreseeable future, space tourists or space participants will have to trust the companies they want to cooperate with. In order to help customers decide whether to sign informed consent waivers, these companies are obliged to disclose their safety records. Drees believes that everyone is ready to do so. He said: “It’s really in the best interests of the company to ensure that they disclose the flight records of spacecraft very clearly, because they want their company to continue to operate in the next few years. These companies don’t want to take shortcuts and do business in an unsafe way.”
Some may question how long this trust in these companies can last. Bank of America, which holds Virgin Galactic shares, criticized the company last week for failing to disclose that it deviated from its route during its flight in July, which led to the FAA’s suspension of its flight.
At the same time, sgoba called for a “more mature” approach and, together with other industry veterans such as Kohler and Bernstein, proposed the establishment of a new independent Institute for space safety to oversee the safety of commercial space flight operations. He said: “The Institute of space security will act as an independent review body and will focus on education and research in key areas of space system security.”
Kohler added: “the space security institute will provide a platform for people and entities to come together and discuss how to achieve their goals. If a company has new ideas, it is important to provide support and technical analysis to determine whether the system can really achieve this goal and is safe.”
Drees also said that the commercial aerospace industry may support such an idea as long as it does not inhibit its innovation ability. She said: “This is really critical to the future of the commercial aerospace industry. We will not formulate standards and regulations until we have the opportunity to innovate and design new spacecraft. Therefore, as long as we still have the opportunity to design, manufacture and fly spacecraft instead of being strictly regulated from the beginning, I think the industry will generally support this idea.” (reviewed by Tencent technology / Jinlu)