My column, on the tenth anniversary of the Columbia loss, at USA Today.
Even a ship in harbor is not safe – not from tsunamis, hurricanes, or Japanese zeros.
From the column:
Why was the project deemed worthy of expending so many lives? It is not because we didn’t value them.
What’s the evidence for this?
I think there’s pretty strong evidence that the value placed on a life depends strongly on whose life it is. I’d say that in the US, the top of the scale is occupied by presidents and astronauts. In this realm, were talking major television coverage, ceremonies at places like Arlington, military fly-overs and flags at half mast. Curiously, some members of the British royal family also seem to rate similarly in death. Victims of mass murder come somewhat lower on the scale, being ranked more highly the younger they are. A connection to terrorism also raises importance. A non-astronaut employee of NASA is of some importance if his death is sufficiently close to flight hardware (recall the KSC employee who died about the time of one STS-134 or -135: he got a presidential mention, IIRC). Celebrities in general might come next on the scale. Homicide deaths are occasionally accorded some importance, and they certainly do better than car-accident deaths. Other sorts of accidents, including industrial accidents, go largely unnoticed unless the accident itself is in some way spectacular. The test pilot, the close kin of one kind of astronaut, tends to fall in this category.
The above ranking of types of death by importance is certainly arguable, non-comprehensive, and incomplete in that it focuses on attention garnered and neglects other measures of importance, such as monetary payouts. What’s indisputable, though, is that the value placed on a human life varies greatly, depending on whose life it is and the manner in which it is lost. Hence, I think it’s quite possible that the lives of the 5000 workers who died building the Panama Canal just were not valued much. And maybe the problem with risk in space exploration is more that astronauts’ lives are valued too highly and not so much that opening the space frontier isn’t important (though I think there’s lots of evidence supporting the latter proposition too).
Most of the workers on the canal were Caribbean blacks.
So, are you agreeing or disagreeing with my contention that some lives are valued far more than others?
NASA doesn’t have a mission.
Yes, they do. Its receiving their paychecks until they retire and go to work for the aerospace contractors and universities they have been giving money to.
President Eisenhower called it the Military-Industrial Complex but its really the Science-Industrial Complex.
Great article, Rand. I may want to quote an excerpt from it for a book I am writing. Would you mind me doing that if I do the proper reference citation?
That’s always fair use.
Thanks for the rapid response, Rand. I totally agree with you on this issue anyway, so I won’t be contradicting your message. As you know when it comes to the entire spectrum of space issues, there is hardly enough distance separating our respective positions to even see daylight between them.
Great article. I’ll bet you didn’t come up with the sub-headline, since your focus is more on exploitation. Of course, that word has some baggage.
Copy editors title articles and columns.
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