The company, better known as SpaceX, is already building its Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon capsules to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and has a $1.6-billion contract to do just that for NASA.
SpaceX plans to send its unmanned Dragon capsule to dock with the International Space Station on April 30 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., in a demonstration flight for NASA. If successful, SpaceX would be the first private company to accomplish the feat.
To date, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule have had two successful test launches. But the company has grander visions for the future.
Now that the space shuttle is retired, SpaceX wants in on the potentially multibillion-dollar job of ferrying astronauts to and from the station. To do that, SpaceX needs to make sure its capsule -- which is built to fit up to seven people -- is safe.
"When it comes to manned spaceflight, safety is our top priority," Elon Musk, SpaceX chief executive and chief designer, said in a statement. "These experts will provide us with important insights as we prepare to carry astronauts on the next generation of American spacecraft."
The independent "safety advisory panel" is composed of leading human spaceflight safety experts, including several former NASA astronauts and senior NASA officials. From the SpaceX release:
- Leroy Chiao, former NASA astronaut, former International Space Station commander.
- G. Scott Hubbard, former director of NASA Ames Research Center, Stanford University professor of aeronautics and astronautics, sole NASA representative on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
- Dr. Richard T. Jennings, former chief of medicine for NASA Johnson Space Center, University of Texas Medical Branch professor at the Aerospace Medicine Center.
- Capt. Mark Kelly, former NASA astronaut, former Space Shuttle commander, retired Navy captain.
- Edward Lu, former NASA astronaut.
SpaceX said the panel will convene in the fall and will continue its work well after the company begins flying people to space.