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Speeches

Board Meeting: Commercial Space Launch Accident - SpaceShipTwo, Closing Statement, Washington, DC
Christopher A. Hart
NTSB Boardroom
7/28/2015

In closing, I would like to recognize the hard work of the NTSB staff in producing this report, and thank my fellow Board Members for their very thoughtful participation in the process.

Throughout this meeting, we discussed various human factors issues that were known from previous transportation accident experience but that were not thoroughly addressed in this test flight by Scaled Composites. We also examined how certain hazard analysis requirements were waived by the FAA.

In the big picture, commercial space travel stands on the verge of becoming reality.  Some of you may remember the iconic scene in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey in which a Pan Am passenger shuttle approaches a space station. In 1968, Pan Am even started a waiting list of people interested in taking a commercial space flight. That list grew to 93,000.

Today, the vision of commercial space travel is close to fulfillment. Hundreds of people whose only qualification for space flight is their ability to purchase a ticket await the opportunity to go into space on commercial space launches.

But for such flights to proceed safely, commercial space transportation must continue to evolve and mature. The success of commercial space travel depends on the safety of commercial space travel, at the level of every operator and every crew.

The recommendations to the FAA and to the Commercial Space Industry that we approved today are early steps in this commercial space safety journey.

If acted on, they will help ensure that the FAA’s evaluation of experimental permit and license applications is more robust and that the FAA demands and ensures the mitigation of risks to the public and property if and when it waives requirements.

In commercial space transportation, manufacturers are pursuing widely varying approaches to find the best technological solutions. Today’s recommendations, if heeded, will enhance the FAA’s ability to provide oversight that more fully recognizes each operator’s specific approach.

These recommendations will also result in stronger guidance regarding human factors in the design and operation of commercial space vehicles, enhanced collaboration between FAA technical staff and operators, and the collaborative sharing of safety lessons in commercial spaceflight through a database that is now under development at the FAA.

Such a database will allow the commercial space sector to benefit from a longstanding principle in commercial aviation, namely, that anybody’s accident is everybody’s accident. Operators can and do compete on many levels, whether in commercial aviation or in commercial space transportation. But when it comes to safety, they must cooperate and collaborate, with each other and with the FAA.

We stand adjourned.