As Virgin Galactic readies the first-ever commercial spaceflight for later this week, safety experts can’t help but draw comparisons to the tragic Titan sub-implosion that happened earlier this month.
In both industries, companies are selling high-risk adventures that rely on unregulated or experimental technology to wealthy amateur explorers.
Tommaso Sgobba, the executive director of the International Association of the Advancement of Space Safety, told Space.com that the standards for space travel evolved from “prescriptive requirements” for surviving space.
Comparing the space tourism operations to deep sea tourism, Sgobba said: “You have a technology that goes into an extreme environment for the purpose of pleasure that doesn’t give much chance to people to survive if something goes badly wrong.”
Space tourism companies like Virgin Galactic, which is owned by businessman adventurer Sir Richard Branson, and competitors like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin rely on informed consent, meaning passengers must accept the risks rather than the companies comply with a regulatory body.
In defense of the lack of regulation, Michelle Hanlon, the co-director of the Center for Air and Space Law told Inside Edition that risks have to be taken so the industries can both survive and advance.
“We need to support risk-takers especially when we’re talking about exploring things like the deep seas and space,” Hanlon said. “We need to keep a very light hand on regulation.”
Virgin Galactic said in a news release that the commercial spaceflight dubbed Galactic 01 will launch on June 29 with the goal of conducting “microgravity research.” You can watch the launch, which is scheduled to begin at 11 am Eastern on Thursday, on Virgin Galactic’s website.
Michael Colglazier, Virgin Galactic’s chief executive officer, explained the scheduled spaceflight will “usher in a new era of repeatable and reliable access to space for government and research institutions for years to come.”
According to the press materials, Galactic 01 won’t have any passengers but will have experienced pilots manning the ship and crew conducting experiments.
The team consists of retired military officers from Italy, Canada, and the United States as well as an engineer with Italy’s National Research Council and an astronaut instructor with Virgin Galactic.
Then, in August 2023, Virgin Galactic will launch Galactic 02 as a private astronaut mission. In 2021, the company reportedly had more than 600 commercial passengers sign up for a trip to the tune of $450,000 per person.