NASA Considers Flying People on Commercial Suborbital Vehicles for Research

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1. What  Happened?

As commercial suborbital vehicles get ready to carry both payloads and people to a mission, NASA officials say they’re willing to consider agency-funded researchers to fly on those vehicles.

NASA official, Steve Jurczyk, mentioned at the Suborbital Researchers Conference (December 19, 2017) that the agency is open to allow researchers funded by NASA’s Flight Opportunities program to fly on suborbital spacecraft to carry out their experiments.

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2. Are companies already testing this?

 Zero-G, using their Boeing 727, does parabolic flights with researchers flying on the aircraft with their experiments. Coincidently, Zero-G is part of NASA's Flight Opportunities program, which would allow NASA to follow the same procedure as Zero-G's, to allow researchers on board.

Blue Origin’s vehicle, New Shepard, is already carrying research payloads (some for the Flight Opportunities program) but without people on board. However, the vehicle will support missions carrying payloads and people in a near future.

Virgin Galactic’s vehicle, SpaceShipTwo,  will soon also fly research payloads accompanied by a payload specialist

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3. Is this completely safe?

The risk of this fieldwork is similar to that of a marine biologist or a marine geologist, which put themselves in the front-lines of their field. Most likely, those on the missions, along with his/her family, will need to sign liability waivers.