NASA Warns SpaceX Practice Could Put Lives at Risk

A dangerous method for loading fuel has government safety experts raising alarms
By Josh Gardner,  Newser Staff
Posted May 6, 2018 4:30 PM CDT
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket transporting the Tess satellite lifts off from launch complex 40 at Cape Canaveral   (AP Photo/John Raoux)

(Newser) – NASA safety experts are warning SpaceX that its rocket technology has the potential to put lives at risk. Per the Washington Post, Elon Musk's company was looking for a way to supercharge rockets when engineers realized they could pack in more fuel by super-cooling it before takeoff. In order to keep the fuel at the correct temperature, it must be loaded into the spacecraft just before takeoff in a process known as "load-and-go." That, NASA says, is a problem because astronauts will already be in the craft and ready to blast into orbit when the rocket is fueled. Should something go wrong and the fuel ignite prematurely, the results could be deadly. The "load-and-go" practice was even rejected in years past by NASA over concerns it is unsafe, according to the report.

The September 2016 explosion of a SpaceX rocket during fueling appeared to be a realization of NASA's fears. However, SpaceX supporters have painted NASA as unnecessarily cautious and say that instinct hampers innovation. What's more, a SpaceX representative said at a congressional hearing early this year that the company believes "load-and-go" is actually safer than other methods because it takes just 30 minutes to fuel. The company also notes that its Dragon spacecraft is outfitted with safety gear that jettisons the crew capsule away from the rocket in the event of an emergency. As Newsweek notes, NASA's 2018 schedule shows that SpaceX is set to test launch for the first time a rocket with a capsule designed to carry humans in August, though it will be unmanned for the test.

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