In the next couple weeks the Obama administration will make a decision on the future of U.S. human spaceflight. Now, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), an independent panel that has been evaluating NASA’s safety performance and advising the agency since 1968, has published its annual report, which questions the safety of using commercial launch vehicles to put astronauts in space.
In 2009, an independent committee, the Augustine Panel, was commissioned to review the current U.S. human spaceflight program and to provide recommendations to the administration. The panel’s final report implied that NASA should abandon its new rocket, Ares I, which is being built to ferry astronauts into orbit after the space shuttles retire. Instead, the panel said NASA should rely on the commercial sector to carry both crew and cargo into low Earth orbit.
ASAP states that NASA’s program for the development of commercial systems, called Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS), is absent of a human-rating process. So far, the agency has only awarded contracts to two companies, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, for the development of systems to carry cargo. ASAP is also concerned about NASA’s lack of assessing the safety of these systems.
According to the ASAP report, “switching from a well-designed, safety-optimized system to commercially-developed vehicles based on nothing more than unsubstantiated claims would seem a poor choice. Before any change is made to another architecture, the inherent safety of that approach must be assessed to ensure that it offers a level of safety equal to or greater than the program of record.”
Meta has built a massive new language AI—and it’s giving it away for free
Facebook’s parent company is inviting researchers to pore over and pick apart the flaws in its version of GPT-3
The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus
The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.
Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging
The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.
Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI
One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.