Broadcast 2644 Anatoly Zak, Debra Werner

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Guests: Anatoly Zak, Debra Werner;  Topics: Astronaut safety issues per their Aerospace America October 2015 article, "Maximizing Safety." Please direct all comments and questions regarding specific Space Show programs & guest(s) to the Space Show blog which is part of archived program on our website,  Comments and questions should be relevant to the specific Space Show program. Written Transcripts of Space Show programs are a violation of our copyright and are not permitted without prior written consent, even if for your own use. We do not permit the commercial use of Space Show programs or any part thereof, nor do we permit editing, YouTube clips, or clips placed on other private channels & websites. Space Show programs can be quoted, but the quote must be cited or referenced using the proper citation format. Contact The Space Show for further information. In addition, please remember that your Amazon purchases can help support The Space Show/OGLF. See

We welcomed Anatoly Zak back to the show and for the first time we welcomed Debra Werner to this 94 minute discussion on astronaut safety based on their Oct. 2015 article Aerospace America, "Maximizing Safety." You can read and download the article at  We started the first and only segment off by asking Anatoly to provide us with the background for their story and research.  As you will hear, our two guests wanted to more fully understand the odds of a fatal astronaut accident or illness, plus they wanted to know what both NASA and the industry were doing to minimize these risks and bring them within acceptable risk tolerance levels.  Part of their research focused on the 1968 congressionally mandated Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP).  Our guests referred to the ASAP crew loss ratios and safety recommendations throughout their Space Show discussion. 

Before delving into the details of astronaut safety, I asked if their research included the suborbital industry or if it was only focused on orbital.  Our guests said that suborbital needed serious attention to safety citing recent accidents and the always present launch risk.  That said, most of our discussion was about orbital and BLEO human spaceflight.  Our guests also pointed out the difficulty in comparing safety with the new spaceflight vehicles with that of the now retired Space Shuttle.  Given such wide ranging differences in the vehicles, the missions, and even potential destinations, it was like comparing apples and oranges in terms of crew safety issues.

Much of our focus was on the ASAP and SLS/Orion.  They talked about the need for more testing but this and other safety implementation recommendations were challenged by insufficient budgets.  Because of this, I asked our guest if they met with or discussed this subject with Congress and staff but unfortunately, they did not do so.  An issue that came up many times was the proposed SLS flight rate.  Most believe the flight rate is too low to maintain safety but our guests described the NASA approach to the low flight rate issue.  Let us know what you think of the NASA way with your blog comments.  I also compared this approach to needing specialized medical surgery.  Would you want your surgeon to do only one or two surgeries a year and the rest of the time do simulations while waiting for the next real patient?  That said, our guests were quick to point out the low flight rate for the Chinese human spaceflight program which the Chinese seem to handle without incident.  This could serve as a model for the NASA approach regarding this issue. 

Listener Joe sent in an email asking about Russian Soyuz safety since NASA has no say so with the Russians yet they flight NASA astronauts on the Soyuz all the time.  Do not miss what Anatoly said about Russian safety, their procedures, and the way NASA is kept in the loop on all of these matters. 

I mentioned my interview at the AIAA Space 2015 Conference in Pasadena last September as Rand Simberg and Leonard David were with me for the interview with the head of the NASA Commercial Crew program.  Rand was asking our NASA hostess about acceptable risks for human spaceflight and would they accept more risk to launch a yet to be certified human spaceflight vehicle for an emergency rescue of the crew.  Don't miss this discussion about acceptable risk with our two guests.  If you missed the AIAA interview, you can get it from the archives from Sept. 3, 2015.  Before we ended this topic, Michael Listner called to also participate in the acceptable risk  for NASA discussion.

Our guests cited many numbers for different scenarios for loss of crew ratios.  We discussed the different ratios, tried to determine the reasonableness of the numbers, goals, and objectives.  Additionally, Anatoly and Debra provided us with different sets of crew loss ratios throughout our discussion  as we found out NASA and the ASAP use different categories to evaluate the risk. 

Questions came up about the new crew design which has primarily settled on a modern day capsule.  Debra and Anatoly explained why this was a safer design than the old shuttle design but they also talked about risks for deep space and BLEO missions being much greater than going to and from the ISS, even to and from the Moon.  One of the issues they discussed on the show as well as in their article was being hit by a piece of space debris so they talked about the mitigation strategies of the different capsule makers.  Safety issues for Mars were also discussed along with the idea of keeping a capsule docked at the ISS for a possible later use life boat.  One of the problems in doing this would be to do frequent, detailed inspections to make sure the capsules had not suffered any destructive or repair needing meteorite strikes.

Dr. Doug called and had a lengthy conversation with out guests on several issues, including using rockets with already existing great safety records such at the Atlas 5 to launch the humans to space, then dock with the cargo being brought up by the newer SLS.  Doug's plan would require more launches, would be more complex as stated by Anatoly, but in the end, there was no agreement with Dou.  He  continued to advocate his plan and our guests going by the plan of record.  I suggested Doug contact the teams working on SLS, Orion, plus the mission designers, ask them about his idea and see what they tell him.  Doug said he had tried that before and it was hit and miss if he would get a reply.  I encouraged him to do it anyway and let us know what he hears back, if anything.  My additional suggestion was for him to be succinct in his email.

BJohn sent in a series of emails before our program ended.  All of his questions focused on "imaginary fears about radiation, microgravity, psychosocial collapse, alien bio-hazards. Isn't space flight safety instead about the physics of simply making capsules survive launch and landing?"  Our guests and I disagreed with him on his idea that radiation, human factors, microgravity and other risks were imaginary.  However, subsequent emails, he did not back off his central point to focus on launch and abort rather than what he considered to be imaginary fears.  After the show, he sent me a note for clarification which I urged him to put on the blog.  It seems he was mostly talking about Earth to the ISS, not BLEO which was what the guests were talking about.  Still, even in his private notes to me, he stuck by his guns.  Of course there have been health issues for astronauts and cosmonauts being in LEO and at the Station.  Issues around bone and muscle deterioration, osteoporosis, vision problems, mental instability leading almost to mutiny and fights among the crew have been reported.  Dr. Rowe has certainly noted cardiac and possible nutrition risks for the Apollo astronauts.  In the opinion of our guests and myself, we do not believe fears or concerns about these and other human factors issues are imaginary.

In summary, both Anatoly and Debra provided us with quality closing statements on the subject of astronaut safety.  Don't miss them. Anatoly can be reached through his excellent website,  Debra does not have a website but you can email her through me.  Debra usually puts her email address on her Aerospace America and Space News articles as does Anatoly Zak.

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12 Feb 2016 Anatoly Zak, Debra Werner
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