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