Home Science Space FAA official says space tourism risky, Virgin Galactic prez says not so
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration warned at the end of July 2008 that civil companies, such as Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, who are pioneering the first sub-orbital flights as part of the fledgling space tourism industry have extraordinary risks in their endeavors. Virgin Galactic says it will be thousands of times safer than any previous human spaceflights.


Dr. George C. Nield met with representatives of the Space Frontier Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing human exploration of space, during their annual meeting in Washington, D.C. (United States).

Nield stated, according to the New Scientist article “Too gung-ho” (July 26, 2008, page 7), that with respect to the up-and-coming space tourism business, “What’s going on now represents a very different level of risk.”

Nield is in charge of the Commercial Space Transportation unit within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that oversees and regulates commercial human space flight safety.

When asked to compare the risks involved in the fledgling space tourism industry with another risky aviation venture, Nield recalled the early supersonic jet flights.

He specifically mentioned the American-made Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, which was nicknamed “The Widowmaker," after its very poor safety record during the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, approximately 110 pilots from the German Luftwaffe were lost in test flights of the single-engine, high-performance supersonic interceptor aircraft.

Nield concluded, as reported by New Scientist, “Neglecting safety could mean ‘an end to commercial human space flight before it has [a] chance to get started.”

At about the same time of the Nield interview, the president of Virgin Galactic was being interviewed on the safety aspects of putting regular (but wealthy) people into space during sub-orbital flights. Please read page two.

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William Atkins

William Atkins completed educational degrees in science (bachelor’s in physics and mathematics) from Illinois State University (Normal, United States) and business (master’s in entrepreneurship and bachelor’s in industrial relations) from Western Illinois University

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