back to article Taxi for NASA! SpaceX to fly astronauts to space station

There'll be champagne corks popping in Hawthorne, California, as NASA has finally given SpaceX clearance to carry astronauts to the International Space Station. "The authority to proceed with Dragon's first operational crew mission is a significant milestone in the Commercial Crew Program and a great source of pride for the …


  1. Sgt_Oddball

    My God, it's full of stars

    Can't help but notice from the canned statement

    "When Crew Dragon takes NASA astronauts to the space station in 2017, they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown. We're honored to be developing this capability for NASA and our country."

    Didn't a few of them.... well blow up? Or is my memory going dim? Or is it more a case of, it's blow up less than all of the rest of them. Though I'll admit I'm talking about the launch vehicle as well and I am aware a few of the crashes was more because they were trying to land the thing rather than try to leave a crater in the sea.

    That said, anything that gets us reaching for the stars is a good thing, so champagne away chap.

    (Aliens because space natch.)

    1. Joe User

      Re: My God, it's full of stars

      "Safe space travel" is a relative expression.

      1. Stuart 22

        Re: My God, it's full of stars

        Given the preferred previous employment was 'test pilot' and testing real edge of envelope and occasionally beyond aircraft I suspect a career move to astronaut may be a safer one.

        This is a real problem that when a space vehicle goes bang then manned spaceflight is always brought into question. There have been losses, there will always be losses but aviation has shown how over time and learning from incidents can change something that is inherently dangerous into a mode of transport most of us will consider no more dangerous than taking the bus (and probably isn't).

        All thanks to those early pilots who put their lives on the line in unproven craft. Always the right stuff and to be treasured for their heroism or just blindness to danger.

    2. Bleu

      Re: My God, it's full of stars

      Up from me

      It has indeed blown up, and not just on the vertical landing attempts.

      Just how much Musk has spent, from his garguantuan dragon hoard, it seems to be a little in the early days, on the government gravy-train since. I know the rabids will down-vote this post if they see it, for the rabids, please give exact figures on Musk's personal wealth, how much he has invested at risk in Space X projects, and how much is extracted from the US taxpayer?

      I have a pretty good idea, he has

      invested FA since getting the supply contract, probably well before, and, it seems, no penalty for screwing up on supply.

      Sure, Space X is probably doing better value than the US competition, but they have a far from perfect record for cargo delivery.

      NASA has already transferred much knowledge, gratis assistance, tax dollars from US citizens, and, perhaps not yet, but they will or are, transferring techniques stolen from the USSR and Russia to Space X.

      Passengers? I loved the mock-up, it doesn't look like it would be bearable under high-g take-off, the only idea was to make it look like a miniature Star-Trek bridge.

      Doubtless the American taxpayer is paying for a seating arrangement that doesn't break the rider's necks taking off.

      1. notowenwilson

        Re: My God, it's full of stars

        Interesting line of argument. It seems that you're suggesting that since Musk didn't largely fund the whole effort out of his own pocket that SpaceX somehow isn't doing a good job. if you take your arguments for why SpaceX are unworthy and apply them to any other space equipment provider you'll find that they are all guilty of the same transgressions. SpaceX get paid by the government to ferry stuff into space. Just like DHL get paid by the government to ferry stuff overseas.

        When NAA built the CSM for Apollo they did the initial development work out of their own pocket up until the point where they could prove that they had the capability of actually delivering the goods. Once the contract was awarded, everything after that was paid for by the government. NAA banked the profits from building the CSMs, some of which paid for the initial development work since NAA aren't a charity and they don't build spacecraft for the fun of it. And no, when Apollo 13 went bang, NASA didn't go to NAA and ask for their money back even though that failure led to a complete failure of the mission. At the end of the day the human race (and capitalism) was the winner. How is that any different to SpaceX?

        As far as knowledge goes, NASA are a (relatively) open government agency, they publish mountains of technical data about everything they do, it's not hard to learn a whole lot about what they do without even having an ISS supply contract. From their point of view it would be highly irresponsible NOT to share everything they know with their suppliers as it makes for better hardware.

        Finally, just wanted to check that you do realise that NASA don't actually make spacecraft right? The space shuttle was built by Boeing, Apollo CSM was NAA, Apollo LM was Grumman, Gemini was McDonnell Douglas. In every one of these cases NASA paid commercial rates for the hardware and contributed money and knowledge to the development. SpaceX building rockets for them is nothing new.

        1. Bleu

          Re: My God, it's full of stars

          I gather that notowmenwilson was replying to my posts.

          My objection to the Space X tale as it is told is that people like to pretend it is all by a brave entrepreneur, it is not, he had a very solid base of capital, used a little to buy ex-NASA and other state-trained expertise, trained at much expense. Puts nothing baa

    3. Anonymous Coward

      Re: My God, it's full of stars

      I would guess it "explodes less".

      As I'm certain all rocket tests have their own RUD at times.

      At least Kerbal Space Program has taught me that.

    4. asdf

      Re: My God, it's full of stars

      As much as I admire Mr. Musk (Tony Stark) I know if I had to choose even decades later I would still rather have Mr. Von Braun design the rocket I had to go to space in. A tough act to follow and one I am afraid even one of the great engineers from our time might struggle with and get someone killed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: My God, it's full of stars

        I would still rather have Mr. Von Braun design the rocket I had to go to space in....... I am afraid even one of the great engineers from our time might struggle with and get someone killed

        I think von Braun got rather more people killed than we've so far managed to kill trying to get into space, both amongst the launch crews and those on the receiving end.

      2. Me19713

        Re: My God, it's full of stars

        Even if von Braun's rockets occasionally came down in London...

    5. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: My God, it's full of stars

      Blowing up on landing isn't the same thing as blowing up with the squishies onboard.

      FWIW: If the dragon capsule's escape system had been enabled (just in case) on the last launch, the module would probably have been recoverable. They had telemetry from it all the way down, but no way of soft-landing the thing.

  2. stuartnz

    Better than most

    How many launch failures has Space X had? Obviously the attempted landings are irrelevant to a discussion of their launch safety record, but am I correct in thinking that the one catastrophic failure El Reg chose to dwell on at length, via the headline image and commentary, was a rare exception for Musk's company?

    1. Bleu

      Re: Better than most

      I do not think it 'is better than most', except for the early space-race days.

      However, I am only posting here and now because I cannot sleep and to pose an interesting hypothetical: what if Lisa Nowak had delayed her flip-out until she was again in orbit with her cheating bf Odom on board as the commander?

      Of course, she may have been able to control herself, after all, here on Earth, she didn't go after him, but his new paramour, stupid reaction in itself.

      Interesting scenario, IMHO, lucky for NASA it never happened. It does remind me of many 'insane in SPAACE' sf stories.

      1. stuartnz

        Re: Better than most

        Thanks for taking the time to reply. I asked because I was genuinely curious. The impression I have is that Space X's failure rate is low, but I'm very willing to have that impression corrected if the numbers show otherwise.

  3. LazLong

    Boo, hiss

    As an American, which means a citizen of a country who has lost more astronauts than any other, I find the photo and caption very offensive. Making light of the possibility of some of these brave souls dying in a malfing launch is, in my opinion, in very poor taste. I know everyone doesn't necessarily share the same sacred cows, but I would hope that profound respect for astronauts/cosmonauts/taikonauts is universal.

    1. DainB Bronze badge

      Re: Boo, hiss

      "As an American"

      No need to continue, we've got the idea.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Boo, hiss

        > "No need to continue, we've got the idea."

        No, it looks like YOU have an idea (apparently). Care to share it with us?

        1. DainB Bronze badge

          Re: Boo, hiss

          What ? One more ?

    2. Phil Endecott

      Re: Boo, hiss

      > Making light of

      It's not "making light of", it's saying "WTF are they doing this considering the imperfect safety record!!!". I had assumed that that failure would delay manned flights for many years.

      I'd actually like to see some stats that compare this to the previous systems; no shuttles exploded prior to the first manned missions.

      1. MrT

        Previous systems...

        "no shuttles exploded prior to the first manned missions."

        Apart from very early airborne excursions on the back of the carrier 747 aircraft, no shuttle flew without a crew - the 5 ALT unpowered glides by Enterprise and the first 4 STS orbital launches were the test flights.

      2. Matthew Taylor

        Re: Boo, hiss

        Every rocket has an imperfect safety record. With current technology, there's always a chance something could go wrong. Same for planes and cars - they're fairly safe these days, but failures do occur sometimes. You judge the risk, and make your choice.

      3. notowenwilson

        Re: Boo, hiss

        Fairly certain that there were no unmanned shuttle missions.

        Some stats:

        Up until Challenger exploded the space shuttle was 1 failure from 25 launches (96% success)

        Up until Columbia it was 2 failures from 113 launches (98.3%)

        Final total was 2 failures from 135 launches (98.5%)

        Falcon9 is currently 1 failure from 19 launches (95% success)

        It's probably worth noting that the Space Shuttle was man rated from day 1 and so had a much more stringent test process before it was launched, to say nothing of the development cost.

        After both Challenger and Columbia there was around a 2.5 year delay before the shuttle flew again. 8 months between Apollo 13 and Apollo 14 and it looks like SpaceX will have around a 1.5-2 year gap between this year's failure and the first crewed ISS flight (although there will be unmanned launches between now and then). The massive delays for the shuttle program were largely because the first flight back had to be manned so they had to be absolutely certain that they fixed the problem. And also they lost the crew which is always going to make people nervous. The really remarkable one is Apollo 14. You'd need balls of steel to be the first guys to get on the rocket that soon after a very nearly life ending situation like Apollo 13.

        1. stuartnz

          Re: Boo, hiss

          Shuttle Program

          "Final total was 2 failures from 135 launches (98.5%)

          Falcon9 is currently 1 failure from 19 launches (95% success)"

          THANK YOU for this clear comparison. Simple and straightforward, it makes me wonder why there is so much antagonistic hyperbole in this thread. Many posts read as if Space X's record were more like 1 success from 19 launches, so this counterpoint is appreciated. Sufficiently appreciated for me to sacrifice my high upvote ratio to the flood of down votes I know this post will generate.

          1. Richard Taylor 2

            Re: Boo, hiss

            The US seems to have been up front on their losses. Was the USSR actually being honest - or alternatively did they have a superior safety process combined with technology? Just wondering.

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Boo, hiss

              "Was the USSR actually being honest "

              In the early days, no. It was clear from various monitoring sources that they had a number of fatal launch failures after Gagarin that they never mentioned in press releases.

              But those same fatalities made russian spacecraft engineers cautious about craft designs. Unfortunately when political pressure got applied, you had things like the N1 disaster - something repeated on a smaller scale by Brazil a few years ago, managing to kill half that country's spaceprogram staff by having people working on a rocket that was being fuelled at the same time.


          2. This post has been deleted by its author

          3. John Stoffel

            Re: Boo, hiss

            The problem here is that the simple statistics of 2 out of 135 and 1 out of 19 launches doesn't tell you enough to make a true estimate of reliability.

            You also have to include other events in shuttle launches, such as when they had an abort to orbit due to one engine shutting down early, which left them in the wrong orbit. Also the other cases where that almost had burn throughs on the shuttle o-rings on other launches, but didn't quite fail.

            And I'm sure SpaceX has had other near misses as well, I just don't know of them for sure. But back tothe main point, you can't predict future reliability from such a small sample size, esp when you effectively throw the sucker away after each launch. This is why new airline designs do ground tests, then taxi tests, then high speed taxi tests, then first flight, then flight envelope expansion, then flight envelope testing, to make sure that the operating restricts are safely inside the "oh my god we're gonna die!" feelings, and then inside the "crap the wing broke and fell off" levels.

            But testing one off items that get used and thrown away is much much harder. You need to have a process where you test as you build, test and measure, feedback into the production, track each lot of production, etc. It's a hard thing to do. This is what when you build artillery shells, you expect to have duds, misfires and other problems. And which you trace back to a particular lot, then look at the process, manufacturing, etc. And examine the un-fired ones for clues as well. But in that case... you're building thousands, tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of shells and can do proper statistical analysis and prediction because you have so much data.

            With rockets... not so much yet.

            1. notowenwilson

              Re: Boo, hiss

              It's worth looking at how NASA do reliability, it's quite a departure from how most companies do it. (this is all from a couple of books I've read on it, no doubt someone will correct me). They decided a while back that if you're getting custom hardware built in small quantities and using it in applications that are really hard to simulate accurately you're going to have a hell of a time getting accurate MTBF figures. To get anything statistically significant would be impossible. So the alternative is to build things as well as possible and then all through the test phase take the approach that there are no unexplained failures. For example if you had a hard drive on a computer that failed, normally if it failed after a few thousand hours you'd just accept that these things happen and move on with your day. It would only be flagged as an issue if the same thing kept coming up again which is hardly meaningful if your sample space is 1 or even 10. The no unexplained failures technique means that when your HDD fails you then start digging and keep digging until you find the cause of failure and then fix the root cause. If you keep doing that process you end up eliminating the root cause of every known failure mode and hence increase reliability of your system. Expensive yes, but the only real way of ensuring reliability of a system that is effectively a prototype.

              Taking this back to our current discussion and you're right on point. Yes there are failures, they get analysed, the root causes get eliminated and we end up with a safer rocket. What we should really be looking at is how the various organisations deal with failures and less about how many failures they have had.

          4. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Boo, hiss

            It's an even better safety record than that.

            New launchers tend to have teething problems (Eg Ariane5 and Delta) that SpaceX has ensured they didn't have. What sank them was assuming that a simple metal strut designed to a standard which had quite a margin of error in its strength that it was assumed it didn't need testing after the first samples passed muster could be so spectacularly defective - and not just one, but an entire bad batch of the things.

            Something tells me that one supplier won't be on Elon's christmas card list this year.

      4. kurios

        Re: Boo, hiss

        Hello? Earth to Endicott....

        There were no unmanned Shuttle missions. It carried humans on its first and every subsequent launch.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      5. rh587 Silver badge

        Re: Boo, hiss

        "It's not "making light of", it's saying "WTF are they doing this considering the imperfect safety record!!!". I had assumed that that failure would delay manned flights for many years."

        Many years? Both shuttle disasters resulted in Shuttle programme pauses of under 3 years.

        Falcon 9 is a much simpler vehicle with far fewer components, and a more vertically integrated supply chain. There's no reason why SpaceX shouldn't be able to investigate the incident, isolate the root causes (both physical and procedural), and return to flight in a much shorter period, especially as the next few flights will be unmanned and they can validate their work before putting meat bags up front.

        Moreover, the telemetry showed that the Dragon capsule was responsive until it disappeared over the horizon, which is indicative that in a manned launch, the launch-abort process would have made the entire process survivable (albeit unpleasant). You'd have lost the mission but not the crew.

        Dragon remains an inherently safer system than the Shuttle - because you can push a panic button and separate the astronauts from an exploding vehicle very quickly.

      6. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Boo, hiss

        "no shuttles exploded prior to the first manned missions."

        No unmanned shuttles ever flew(*). The first flight was a white knuckle ride and the crew still had ejector seats for the first few after that.

        Not that they would have meant much if an O-ring had gone at an inopportune time.

        (*) Except Buran. The Russians flew that exactly once to prove they could, then mothballed the project as too expensive and far too dangerous for humans to ride in. After losing a significant number of cosmonauts in the early days they developed a far more risk-averse culture than NASA has ever had.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Boo, hiss

      "As an American, which means a citizen of a country who has lost more astronauts than any other, I find the photo and caption very offensive."

      Ah, some calibration is clearly needed. That is something that Frankie Boyle can help with at around about 5 minutes 10 seconds...

    4. Lars Silver badge

      Re: Boo, hiss

      Please LazLong. It's not that I can't understand your point, but seriously, the sentence "they will be riding in one of the safest, most reliable spacecraft ever flown." is PR and it's just too early to claim it. Let me give you an example of how we all react. Long ago in a foreign country I heard a good stupid joke, and everybody was laughing, some years later I told that same joke in that same country and surprise, surprise, it wasn't funny at all, and the simple reason was that I, as a foreigner, told that joke. We tend to react that way. Some time ago I happened to look at the F1 Brazil 2007 race:

      Very good British referees who know their business very well, but then listen to those very very "sour grapes" when they realize they won't have a British World Championship. First they are pissed off knowing that Massa will most likely let Räikkönen pass him if it helps Räikkönen and then they start to hope for cars to crash in front of Hamilton, who fucked up his race, and then they hope Alonso would suddenly decide to stop driving because, perhaps, he likes Hamilton more than Räikköen. Sour grapes indeed. We are like that even when adult.

      As for anti American feelings I would like to point out that I don't think Europeans have invented any by themselves. The USA is an open society that still speaks and argues rather vividly about it's society. Of course if you are American and you criticize the "shining city upon a hill" you have to be anti American and leftist if not communist. You are like that.

      Have I been able to clean up between my ears, not so sure, but at least I know where to clean.

    5. Scaffa

      Re: Boo, hiss

      Alternative point of view:

      "I have so much profound respect for astronauts, that I am confused why they would trust their lives to a company whose record implies they build billion dollar fireworks and not spacecraft."

    6. Bleu

      Re: Boo, hiss

      Well said. I am not an American, but appreciate the sacrifice (sorry, cannot define the Shuttle deaths as heros, brave people, tragic deaths, for sure, Apollo 7, sure, tragic heroes, but victims of bad engineering).

      The latest serious space hero was the first taikonaut, he was bleeding from everywhere after landing, the Chinese govt did not want people to see that, so they cleaned him up and put him back in the capsule, to take photos.

      IMHO, they should have emphasised the earlier ones. Space is harsh. Re-entry can be harsh. They had not worked out the latter at the time.

      1. Matthew 17

        Re: Boo, hiss

        I think you mean 1 not 7. 7 was the first manned Apollo flight, the previous ones had been unmanned to test equipment.

        Apollo 1 had the fire which killed the three astronauts during a test but it never left the ground.

        I don't know why people seem worried about SpaceX, spacecraft have always been outsourced to private enterprise, no-one was ever worried before, the Shuttle, Soyuz and Ariane have all had multiple failures, some at the cost of life, SX have a very good track record, yes one failed but it was unmanned and they've changed it since getting the contract, it wasn't an engine fault, the internal bracing of the tanks snapped, it turned out to be due to a bad batch of aluminium, so they changed the design to prevent it happening again. I wish them well, I'm sure they'll do everyone proud.

    7. Paul 77

      Re: Boo, hiss

      Yeah, I'm afraid I agree - the photo choice could have been better :-(

    8. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Boo, hiss

      I find the photo and caption very offensive

      Unfortunately there is no right to not be offended.

      which means a citizen of a country who has lost more astronauts than any other

      "Federation", not country.

      Seeing how Stalin-era "do it or gulag" stuff is in the list ....does this mean that American Gear is particularly failure-prone? Maybe "I want something that looks like a Shuttle while pretending to save money while actually blowing money while using very risky technology" is not the way to go.

  4. Sven Coenye


    Why don't they just use Uber?

    1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: Taxi?

      Because the rocket has to wait for 5 minutes round the corner from the launch pad. It'll never make it between "Zero" and "Lift off".

    2. Martin Budden

      Re: Taxi?

      Because of the mints. Space vehicles need to save weight in every possible way, which means no mints.

  5. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Voodoo Economics goes Tripping with Zerodays in Old Timer Space Systems

    Just another jobs and money/debt/deficit creation scheme? Where is the payback revenue stream which earthed business systems are required to project and protect/dream up and make star promises for investor funding and liquid profit taking?

    Virtualised space, the novel cyber frontier, boldly delivering new life and alienation to man and compelling urges and surges to explore and recover the thrust of curiosity that led men to go try flying high where nothing has gone before, is the new discovery plane and enterprise vessel, is it not, and a much more promising return on investment program ‽ .

    Welcome to Capitalised AIdDVenturism with Global Operating Devices.

    1. DanceMan

      Coders Needed

      On a site such as El Reg, there must be someone who could code a translator from Martian to English.

      Though I would miss reading the original text.

      1. Tail Up

        Re: Coders Needed

        you may fall shortly to disbelief, there's a queue of them translators... but each time the translations will be different (-:

        one believes that the academical set of rules is brief in it.

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          Heavy Meta Coders Needed for GOD in the Likeness and Lightness of Global Operating Devices

          When in translation is the this a that, and both together something else and quite different and rather novel, is IT altogether and Quantum Communication Rules, Tail Up.

          And they free one with reign and reins that do not regulate for ITs regulation is an ancient myth of yore with recurrent episodes of contemporary failure, proving the fiction a fact and the fact a fiction too.

          What tall tales and small lies will be dreamt up and phormed today for media to host and present as a virtual reality somewhere tomorrow ….. to be believed as gospel and GOD given. Is this how all of that works for small minds to perceive and receive the Programs of Reality? By Instant IntelAIgent Messenger Machine?

          Methinks it certainly is. And the proving of it is real expansive fun and a virtual challenge extended to anyone and everyone, anything and everything, although it be true, ideally suited and booted presently for just a precious few.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Heavy Meta Coders Needed for GOD in the Likeness and Lightness of Global Operating Devices

            I have successfully translated this into English by a method which this margin is not big enough to accommodate, and it begins

            " Riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle..."

          2. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

            Re: Heavy Meta Coders Needed for GOD in the Likeness and Lightness of Global Operating Devices

            I am pretty sure this last Martian outburst translates to


            Not sure what it is an answer to, however

            1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

              Re: Heavy Meta Coders Needed for GOD in the Likeness and Lightness of Global Operating Devices

              I am pretty sure this last Martian outburst translates to


              Not sure what it is an answer to, however ... Michael H.F. Wilkinson

              Quite whether it be an answer to anything at all and/or specific is surely unsure, MHFW, but it is relative and related to this Registered post ......

              Anything more for now, I choose not to say.


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