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


October 28, 2013

Chris Hadfield in his time aboard the ISS (Image: Canadian Space Agency)

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


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.


Its disappointing to see a single comment blown out of context. Must be a slow news day.


135 flights. 2 total disasters killing all. sobering odds.


Crashing. If Challenger and Columbia can do it so can Virgin Galactic.


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.


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.

John Hogan

"failure is an opportunity to learn"... unless you're dead.


@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.


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.


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.


What a spoilsport! Of course they will crash one eventually. Something so self evident need not be said. Sounds like Hadfield is trying to discourage others from going into space to protect the relative uniqueness of his experience. Bah humbug, Hadfield!


Strauski, you obviously don't know much about Chris Hadfield. He has single-handedly done more than anyone I can think of to get people, especially kids, interested in space. He has been an excellent ambassador for spaceflight, and that one sentence should be considered in its context - spaceflight is inherently difficult and dangerous and it will be some time before it can be considered "routine." There will inevitably be a price to pay in human lives. NASA has learned that lesson in spades, and Virgin Galactic may very well do the same. This is a part of becoming a spacefaring civilization - a necessary part, whether we want to admit it or not. Nothing great is ever achieved without risk.

Hugh Logie

Well, at least we know what happens to a wet blanket when it gets exposed to zero gravity.


Murphy's Law is on his side...it'll happen.


I say they won't ! best of luck and keep up the good work.

Jay Finke

Too bad we don't still have Feynman to look at the program and compare it to the Challenger, but it seems likely that there will be several crashes - fortunately it also seems likely that the chances of catastrophic crashes have dropped (even with something as risky as space flight) as technology and engineering have made things better. Here's to thousands of space flights and only a few bad ones.


No one even mentions the major JET EXHAUST POLLUTION to do this quarter million dollar trip? What about the environment? Doesn't anyone care to mention anything about that in these articles? This is an INSANE technology, without any forethought to the 100's of TONS of chemicals that get spewed out the tail pipe!

A better ride to the edge of space, a mere 30 miles out where 98.8% of the atmosphere is gone, is being offered by http://www.gizmag.com/bloon-space-balloon/19553/

Darin Selby

Hey VG hear him out & make plans in case the Worst happens. See shuttle Challenger alone, 1986

Stephen Russell

Say what ? With all due respect to Chris Hadfield of course one's going to crash . Wake up folks , 34,000 people died in auto accidents last year in the US alone and 447 died in airplane accidents . Stored and kinetic energy are potentially dangerous . If you don't like danger you're screwed because you live in a house filled with and made out of flammable and poisonous stuff. All anyone can do is use good safety procedures and get on with their life . We all die eventually. I wouldn't mind trying my luck if I had the money for a flight.


@ Darin Selby

There are so many things that generate vast quantities of pollution this is unnoticeable. If you want to fight pollution pollution from airplanes try getting the FAA to update the air routing system to shorten flights; saving 5 minutes on a single commercial route will prevent more pollution than all the space thrill flights combined will generate.


He's right and he's simply trying to remind us all that Space Exploration is not about "fun&games" for the rich. No commenters mentioned Apollo 1 or Apollo 13- there are many other incidents,as well.

It is a timely,sobering comment- especially considering the Dream Chaser's recent minor incident.

Another P-51 crashed the other day in TX with a British tourist on board,riding as a gift from his Wife for their 41st Wedding Anniversary-the pilot&passenger were both killed.

People just need to be more realistic about the risks they are taking- when things do go wrong we should not be surprised or overwhelmed.

Yet,as one man said, "You just have to put that out of your mind-there's always a possibility that you can have a catastrophic failure, of course; this can happen on any flight; it can happen on the last one as well as the first one.

So, you just plan as best you can to take care of all these eventualities, you get a thoroughly-trained crew and well... you just go fly anyway!"

Lieutenant Colonel Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom,U.S.A.F. RIP (paraphrased)

The above quote was from an interview he gave approximately one month before the Apollo 1 incident,where he and his fellow crewmen, Lieutenant Commander Roger Bruce Chaffee (U.S. Navy) and Lieutenant Colonel Edward Higgins White (U.S.A.F.) died in the line of duty.

Ad astra per Aspera: "It's a rough road that leads to the Stars...."


Every car ride, every airplane ride is just a crash waiting to happen, waiting for that one piece or thing to go wrong. Walking down the street is filled with risk, from disease to bad people, your house has dozens of things that can kill you. Not even mentioning mother nature herself. SO a hour of risk for the ability to see one of our worlds greatest views, maybe if we all were so lucky to have the cash setting around.

Ron Spicer

Earth may collide any day with another object killing everyone.There have been natural events that killed all higher life forms many times.

Life is risky. No place is safe. If we dodge all the bullets, we still die. We can not chose to play it safe and live forever. Our only choice is how we live. Death is not a tragedy. Living scared is.

Don Duncan

Still, if I had the $Quarter mil to go, I'd do it despite the risk. As a retired guy, this would be the closest to space I'll probably ever get.


One year.. almost to the day. RIP

Maxim Castle

Wow... he called it almost 1 year to the day before the actual crash!

Dax Wagner
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