NASA praises SpaceX for 'reaching higher' with lunar orbit mission
Published Tuesday, February 28, 2017 11:53AM EST
NASA is praising SpaceX after the aerospace company announced a lunar orbit mission the likes of which hasn’t been seen for decades.
In a statement, NASA said it “commends its industry partners for reaching higher,” and added the space agency will “work closely with SpaceX to ensure it safely meets the contractual obligations to return the launch of astronauts to U.S. soil and continue to successfully deliver supplies to the International Space Station.”
On Monday, SpaceX announced that two private citizens will join a crew of SpaceX astronauts on an upcoming mission to orbit the moon. The week-long flight is scheduled for some time in 2018. SpaceX will use one of its Falcon Heavy rockets to carry the capsule into space.
SpaceX said the two space tourists will remain anonymous for the time being. On Monday, the company would only say that they have already accepted a “significant deposit” from private citizens who came up with the idea of a moon trip in the first place.
SpaceX said it will release additional information on the mission astronauts, after they all pass health and fitness tests.
In an interview with CTV News Channel on Tuesday, former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield called the SpaceX mission a bold, “world-leading” venture.
“I think it’s right on the edge of technological feasibility now, for how mature their spaceship is,” Hadfield said. “It’s pretty exciting and it’s pretty symbolic and I’m looking forward to seeing how it really pans out.”
The last time humans orbited the moon was in 1972, during the Apollo 17 mission. The crew also landed safely on the moon during that mission.
Dangers for non-astronauts?
Hadfield said there are inherent safety risks with such a mission, and the private citizens aboard will need to be prepared.
“It’ll take a take a long time to be safe, they’ll need to be physically very healthy, but the real work will come to the test pilots and the crew that are going to fly the ship,” he said, since the launch rocket blasting into lunar orbit will not be able to “turn around” for home if something goes wrong.
“The only way to get back is to go all the way to the moon,” Hadfield said. “And then sort of like a ball at the end of a rope or a tether, it’s the gravity of the moon that slings you around and sends you back to Earth.”
Therefore, the crew is committed for five or six days, said Hadfield, “so no matter what fails on the ship, it has to be able to keep everybody alive for a week, basically.
“That’s way harder than when you’re just orbiting the world and you can come home at any time. So it adds a level of danger and therefore complexity to ship design.”
But, Hadfield added, it’s has been done before. “It’s not easy, but it’s possible and I think it’s a really good gauntlet of a technological challenge to throw down.”