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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Texas A&M outfielder Jace Laviolette (17) robs a home run from Florida infielder Cade Kurland (4) in the top of the ninth inning during Texas A&M’s game against Florida at the NCAA Men’s College World Series at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska on Sunday, June 15, 2024. (Hannah Harrison/The Battalion)
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SpaceX works to fly 2 private citizens to Moon by end of 2018

SpaceX+plans+to+send+two+private+citizens+around+the+Moon+by+2018.
Photo by Graphic by Alex Sein

SpaceX plans to send two private citizens around the Moon by 2018.

SpaceX announced last Monday that they will fly two people around the moon by the fourth quarter of 2018.
Their plan, according to their official website, is to fly an unmanned Dragon 2 capsule in automatic mode to the ISS by the end of the year, followed by a manned ISS mission in the second quarter of 2018. Finally, they will fly two private citizens around the moon in the fourth quarter of 2018.
According to Gregory Chamitoff, professor of engineering practice and former NASA astronaut, with the right preparation, the plan could succeed.
“For SpaceX to send a spacecraft around the moon in 2018 is a very ambitious goal, but it is consistent with the company’s long term vision of getting people living and working on Mars as quickly as possible,” Chamitoff said. “SpaceX is also planning to land an unmanned Dragon capsule on Mars every two years in line with the occurrences of optimal planetary alignments.”
According to Chamitoff, there aren’t many glaring problems with the technology SpaceX is using that could prevent them from flying an unmanned Dragon around the moon or even beyond that. However, the crew of a manned lunar mission is another issue altogether.
“Professional astronauts undergo many years of training, and the range of training is also very broad,” Chamitoff said. “The training involves countless hours in classrooms and simulators all around the world at the international partner facilities. It includes diverse experience as well, in other languages and in unique environments.”
The minimum amount of training for ISS missions is six months, though it could be less for a lunar flyby, Chamitoff said. Since, according to SpaceX, the training has already begun, they may have more than enough time to properly train the two civilians.
However, according to Bonnie Dunbar, director of the Institute for Engineering Education and Innovation and former NASA astronaut, there are other issues at hand.
“My next question would be about the maturity of the life support systems,” Dunbar said. “So far, SpaceX has not flown any human-rated vehicles, and human-rating has a lot to do with whether or not humans can survive in this extreme environment.”
Dunbar said, the success of the lunar flyby depends also on whether or not SpaceX can correctly install devices like carbon dioxide scrubbers or humidity separators, the latter of which, while seemingly trivial in purpose, created a lot of problems for space shuttle and MIR crews.
Dunbar also had questions about the crew’s preparation, specifically regarding their experiences leading up to their selection, training and eventual flight.
“Training and experience are two different things,” Dunbar said, “Having been a crew member on five flights has taught me that the training is important — you can’t just put people in a can and send them to space.”
Dunbar fears that no matter how much training the people receive over the next two years, if those people have no previous experience with accidents in high-pressure, real-life situations, they may not be able to handle an on-board accident as well as a professionally trained crew of astronauts.
However, according to David Kanipe, Class of 1970 and professor of aerospace engineering, this mission becomes significantly more impactful if there are civilians on board.
“They’re funding some of this, so they have a right to do it as much as anybody,” Kanipe said. “I know that [Elon] Musk wants to do stuff like this, he wants to go to Mars, but this is, it’s not insignificant, but I think it’s, aside from the risk, I mean, if it’s successful, it could really be a stunning achievement for him.”
According to Kanipe, the success of SpaceX’s Mars mission depends in part on this lunar mission. If it succeeds, it could significantly bolster the company’s credibility as being able to not only send humans into deep space, but to have those humans be ordinary, everyday people.
“There are two outcomes: One good one, and one not-so-good one, and a good one can be very stimulating to the space industry,” Kanipe said. “If there’s some horrible accident, or something goes wrong, then that’s going to be a hard image to erase.”

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