5 thoughts on “Thoughts On Space Safety”

    1. I can give it that, because there’s some other subtly wrong things that really matter less than the overall theme. For example, he notes in the second paragraph the risks taken due to the low regard for life, but doesn’t quite make the connection that as the nation moved further away from WWII, the national conscience became more concerned with every human life (as we fully see today with the rhetoric for gun control). He’s also right that the political value of those lives was also a reason for their preservation, but that political value had much less to do with the “failure is not an option” than any loss of life being a risk to further funding of the space program.

      Otherwise, Rand’s correct. In fact, Gene Kranz says as much in his book. I happen to be going through that book right now, and just read Kranz’s personal cutoffs for Apollo 11, which gave a lot of leeway for landing at any cost than being overly cautious to avoid a failure. This was primarily because of simulations which suggested they’d be behind the curve in anticipating abort scenarios. And it was also because he accepted what I call the serenity of it, which is he had to trust the astronauts to make their own decisions on the safety of continuing. Still, a failure was very likely as their simulations showed, and as history tells us, Apollo 11 nearly ran out of fuel with alarms going off (as recalled in this article, which talks abouts the willingness to take risks).

      I get to hear Gene Kranz speak a few times a year. Recently, someone asked him about the relative youthfulness of the controllers for Apollo. Kranz said that they tended to move controllers out as they got older and more risk adverse, which says a lot of his thoughts on FINAO being an issue for Apollo 13 rather than a sentiment beholden to NASA at the time.

      All that said, I think it is a good thesis in general.

  1. Lessons that might have been learned in a year were instead only learned in ten years at orders of magnitude greater financial cost and the same if not higher ultimate number of deaths.

    Makes you wonder if anyone understands the value of a whole new world.

  2. It wouldn’t even matter if the only one who explicitly said “Failure is not an option” was Ed Harris, the fact remains that the phrase is a good summary of the approach NASA has taken, with the result that spaceflight today is no less expensive, dangerous, or rare than it was 40 years ago.

  3. Yes, yes, yes and once again yes. To use a no doubt imperfect analogy, how many people (ordinary people, at that) died during the settlement of the Americas by Europeans? Of course, some of those deaths were due to conflict with the natives, and that certainly won’t be an issue in space.

    Equipment failures in space might well be immediately lethal, but on the other hand there won’t be anyone shooting at the pioneers. Whether the two risks are roughly equal is an interesting question.

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