Can we trust NASA

Space travel - what can Elon Musk's SpaceX do better than NASA, Thomas Zurbuchen?

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Elon Musk is mixing up space travel with his company SpaceX. About a year ago, his rockets flew astronauts from the US space agency Nasa to the ISS space station. It was the first time a private company had carried astronauts. This month, Nasa commissioned SpaceX to build a spacecraft that could take astronauts to the moon. For the US space agency, cooperation with private individuals is very important, says its science director Thomas Zurbuchen.

Thomas Zurbuchen

Science director at NASA

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The Swiss-American dual citizen Thomas Zurbuchen has been Science Director at NASA since 2016. He had previously received his doctorate in astrophysics from the University of Bern and worked as a professor at the University of Michigan.

SRF News: What can Elon Musk do better than NASA?

Thomas Zurbuchen: Elon Musk can take much greater risks with his private company than NASA. However, Musk's success also has a lot to do with the fact that NASA works with him every day.

When you talk about risk, do you mean financial risk?

Financially, but also in general. Four of Elon's “Starship” prototypes have already exploded. If that happened to us at NASA, we would be before Congress within a few days and would have to explain what we did wrong. It is incredibly important to us that we work with private companies so that we can do things faster than alone. This model is important for the future.

But once people sit in there, these incidents shouldn't happen again ..

Precisely, and that is why the partnership is also important. Before astronauts with a NASA logo on their chest sit in the commercial crew, we guarantee that they are absolutely safe.

Elon Musk has the technology, but when it comes to security, NASA is far ahead.

Elon Musk has said in many interviews that he would not be able to shoot these astronauts into space without NASA. He has the technology, but when it comes to security, NASA is by far the leader. That's why we work together.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos supports the private space company Blue Origin, which would also have liked to have received the order for the moon mission. Bezos is now complaining that NASA did not award the contract properly. What do you think of these allegations?

Firstly, I was not there when analyzing these proposals, and secondly, I am absolutely certain that NASA did the job well. It is extremely rare that something goes wrong in such applications. I have an incredible amount of trust in our colleagues.

But this case shows that there is fierce competition between the various providers in the private sector. Is this in accordance with your wishes?

Absolutely. During my tenure, that is, for the past five years, the price of sending a satellite into space has already dropped massively. Competition is very good for science and also for manned space research.

SpaceX has launched thousands of satellites into space. This has also led to criticism, for example from astronomers, who are disturbed by the satellites in their observation of stars. If so many actors are active in space, should its use be regulated anew?

It is very important that international regulations keep up with technological advances. Not just because of astronomy.

Good fences are important to good neighborhoods. The same goes for the orbit.

With tens of thousands of satellites in space, it is difficult for NASA to safely have its satellites there, which predict the weather or do research on Earth. Good fences are important to good neighborhoods. The same goes for the orbit.

The interview was conducted by Simone Hulliger.

Echo der Zeit, April 27, 2021, 6 p.m.; srf / gfem; hosb

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  • Comment from Patrick Janssens (patrickjanssens)
    What is happening there: the privatization of space travel. Neoliberal ideas even into space.
    The market and private companies can do everything better than the state. Anyone who believes this is greatly mistaken.
    Agree agree to the comment
    1. answer from Oliver Stampfli (Ichwars)
      As always, it is only privatized that is profitable ... whatever costs the state can happily continue to operate ... then there is no income to work well - and then you can reproach the state as a private citizen again if the state is not profitable what operates etc ... I am not a sociologist but a well financed state is x times better than private individuals who only care about the return.
      Agree agree to the comment
    2. Show answers

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