Who Is Deserving of Flying to Space?

Image credit Blue Origin

The question was posed to me during a recent interview and it caught me off-guard.

For decades, government agencies have decided who is most deserving by choosing astronauts based on certain criteria that has changed over time.

While the original NASA Mercury astronauts were white male test pilots, NASA has since diversified its astronaut candidates while also increasing the bar regarding education and achievements. Only master’s degree holders of certain fields are allowed to apply.

Many people are excluded from even applying to become a government astronaut based on field of study or educational background, geographical location or citizenship, disability, and other criteria.

JAXA removed its educational requirements in its recent astronaut solicitation. ESA has begun to open up the candidate pool with their Parastronaut feasibility project to allow applicants with certain limb disabilities, but this is just a very small first step.

Commercial companies are beginning to open up opportunities to space for those who have been historically excluded.

I cheered along with the world when aviation pioneer Wally Funk finally earned her astronaut wings by flying on Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard 60 years after participating in the “Mercury 13” medical testing but was not allowed to become a NASA astronaut because of her gender.

Age is a factor no longer so limiting.

William Shatner gained attention not only by finally flying Captain William T. Kirk to space, but also by becoming the oldest person to fly to space at the age of 90 on his Blue Origin New Shepard flight. Blue Origin also flew the youngest person to space, Oliver Daemen, at age 18.

More than 75% of the world has yet to see a person from their nation fly to space.

Last year, Virgin Galactic and Omaze selected raffle winner Keisha Schahaff of Antigua and Barbuda to fly on a future suborbital flight along with her daughter. She may become the the first person from the Caribbean to fly to space. Blue Origin recently flew Katya Echazarreta, the first Mexican-born woman in space.

Zainab Azim may become the first hijab-wearing person in space on a future Virgin Galactic flight. Cameron Bess was the first openly pansexual in space and Sharon and Marc Hagle were the first married couple in space, all on Blue Origin flights.

The list of possible “firsts” in space is long and long overdue.

Jared Isaacman made headlines last year when he partnered with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to choose a fellow crew member and held a raffle and a contest for two additional crew members on his Inspiration4 orbital mission with SpaceX.

Although the “billionaires in space” narrative captured headlines after Richard Branson’s and Jeff Bezos’ flights in July last year, less-well-known billionaire Isaacman chose to bring three non-billionaires to space along with him.

Similarly, billionaire Yusaku Maezawa plans to sponsor 8 “creatives” on his future DearMoon project spaceflight around the Moon with SpaceX. Last year, Maezawa brought his assistant along on his Space Adventures trip to the ISS.

The newly announced Polaris Dawn mission will include Isaacman along with his long-time friend and business associate and two SpaceX employees. Past Blue Origin flights have included guests of Jeff Bezos including Wally Funk, William Shatner, athlete and broadcaster Michael Strahan, and Bezos’ brother.

At this moment in time, commercial space fliers are either very wealthy, connected to the very wealthy, or very lucky to win a seat via a raffle or contest. But will this always be the case?

Who is deserving of going to space? Who defines what “deserving” means?

Is it really for any of us to say who can go or who gets priority over others? Is it for financiers to pick their crews? Is it for spaceflight providers to decide? Or government agencies (such as NASA)? Or government regulators (such as the FAA)?

Becoming Off-Worldly Together community member Terry argues that multidisciplinary scientists should be given high priority.

Having witnessed the crushing loss of the first selected teacher-astronaut Christa McAuliffe on board Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51-L, Terry was dismayed at the lives lost. He worries about commercial human spaceflight setbacks in public opinion and public policy if lives of “average people” are lost too early in the market’s development.

Community member Kassy believes we shouldn’t limit who should fly to space based on the risk. Why is space held to a safety standard that other high-risk industries, such as adventure tourism, are not, she wonders? The concept of personal risk will need to evolve.

Community member Ozan agrees with Kassy, pointing out the Mount Everest has a higher death rate than spaceflight.

Community member Karin advises the space industry to prepare for accidents so that there isn’t a setback for the entire human spaceflight industry. Everyone should be allowed to fly as long as they are well informed of the risks, she says, echoing the Federal Aviation Administration’s current stance as set by Congress.

Ozan believes equity and purpose are more important concepts in public spaceflight than in private spaceflight. Government programs are paid for by taxpayers. Private spaceflight uses private money. Private individuals have a lot of latitude with how they use their money. He’d rather normalize wealthy individuals buying spaceflights than expensive yachts.

Kassy doesn’t believe that the concept of who “deserves” to fly to space should be a concept in private spaceflight, either, even if public money is involved. Aside from Wally Funk, she doesn’t see anyone as more deserving over others. She personally wants to see more communicators in space, but that doesn’t make them more deserving.

Community member Tim argues that if anyone deserves to go to space, it’s the people who have dedicated their lives to making humanity more of a space-faring species, such as the Polaris Dawn crew.

Community member Gene believes anyone is deserving. He recalls the history of NASA’s payload specialist designation that opened up spaceflight not just to test pilots, but also to engineers and researchers. Then it evolved to include politicians. The Challenger accident limited spaceflight to those who had a reason to be there.

Gene is beginning to see spaceflight open up again, but believes we have a long way to go before all who are deserving – anyone – can fly to space.

We are all citizens of Spaceship Earth. Are we all equally worthy to travel off Earth? What do you think?

Want to contribute to future Spaceflight Solutions discussions? Join our community at becomingoffworldly.com.

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