An artist's illustration of SpaceX's Dragon space capsule in Earth orbit.
The private spaceflght company Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) is aiming to launch the first crewed commercial spaceship to the International Space Station and has assembled a team of experts and former astronauts to help make it happen.
To that end, the Hawthorne, Calif., based SpaceX has established an independent safety advisory panel has been established to provide an objective review of the company's Dragon space capsule and its carrier, the Falcon 9 rocket, the company announced Thursday (March 29).
SpaceX is already designing an unmanned capsule, called Dragon, to bring supplies to and from the space station. A crucial test flight of the Dragon capsule is scheduled to occur on April 30, but the company is also working toward its other goal of one day using a version of Dragon to taxi astronauts to the orbiting outpost.
"When it comes to manned spaceflight, safety is our top priority," Elon Musk, SpaceX's CEO 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 panel includes leading human spaceflight safety experts, several former NASA astronauts and senior NASA officials. The panel will convene this fall and will continue its role even after SpaceX begins launching humans to space, company officials said. [Gallery: Dragon, SpaceX's Private Spaceship]
The members of SpaceX's safety advisory panel include:
- Leroy Chiao, former NASA astronaut and space station commander. Chiao flew four space missions, logging a total of 229 days in orbit.
- G. Scott Hubbard, former director of NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., and a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at Stanford University. In 2003, Hubbard was the sole NASA representative on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board that examined what caused the tragic loss of the space shuttle Columbia.
- Richard Jennings, former chief of medicine at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and a University of Texas Medical Branch professor at the Aerospace Medicine Center.
- Mark Kelly, former NASA astronaut and space shuttle commander. Kelly flew four space shuttle missions, including serving as commander of STS-134, the final flight of the space shuttle Endeavour and the second-to-last flight of NASA's shuttle program. Kelly is also a retired Captain in the U.S. Navy.
- Edward Lu, former NASA astronaut and veteran of three space missions. Lu logged over 206 days in space and was the first American to launch and land in a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft.