Retired astronaut Jerry Ross, who grew up in Crown Point, isn’t keen on the idea of having a private company design space vehicles to carry astronauts. His points are worth considering.
Ross, who spoke Sunday afternoon at the Sinai Forum at Purdue University Northwest’s Westville campus, holds the record for the most space flights, at nine, an honor he shares with one other person.
“Anytime a commercial company is doing something, they’re doing it to try to make money,” he said. “And when you’re trying to make money, you do things as easily and cheaply and quickly as you can. So they’re not doing all the things that we at NASA would do in terms designing and testing and redesigning and retesting until we got it right.”
The result, Ross fears, could be tragic.
“I’m afraid that we will have our NASA crew members flying on vehicles not as safe as they could be. So we at NASA, we the taxpayers, have now invested $8 million-plus into these commercial crew vehicles. So what happens when the first of those crashes, and unfortunately some people may die in them?
“They don’t have as deep pockets as the federal government does, so they’re probably going to go out of business. And when they go out of business, NASA’s going to be left holding the bag after we piled all of that money into their pockets to build things for us.
“And we’re also putting our own crew members at risk because we are not building the safest vehicle we can build, and we don’t have the insight into knowing what is good and what is bad in the design.”
NASA is no stranger to tragedy, nor is Ross. He was scheduled to fly on the Jan. 28, 1986, Challenger space shuttle mission until NASA bumped him up to an earlier mission. The Challenger blew up shortly after takeoff, killing the seven crew members, including a teacher.
Another space shuttle, Columbia, burned up on re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003, killing all seven crew members. And Hoosier Gus Grissom was among the three astronauts who died during preparation for the Apollo 1 mission.
The observations of a veteran astronaut should give anyone pause about the use of civilian efforts at the cutting edge of dangerous situations.
As we enter the Donald Trump era, how the federal government functions will be under the microscope, including changes like these that were brought by prior administrations. Let’s just take a moment to think of potential consequences before making big changes. Some of the changes could be very beneficial.
But in some cases, as Ross points out, the devil could be in the details.