Transterrestrial Musings  

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay

Alan Boyle (MSNBC)
Space Politics (Jeff Foust)
Space Transport News (Clark Lindsey)
NASA Watch
NASA Space Flight
Hobby Space
A Voyage To Arcturus (Jay Manifold)
Dispatches From The Final Frontier (Michael Belfiore)
Personal Spaceflight (Jeff Foust)
Mars Blog
The Flame Trench (Florida Today)
Space Cynic
Rocket Forge (Michael Mealing)
COTS Watch (Michael Mealing)
Curmudgeon's Corner (Mark Whittington)
Selenian Boondocks
Tales of the Heliosphere
Out Of The Cradle
Space For Commerce (Brian Dunbar)
True Anomaly
Kevin Parkin
The Speculist (Phil Bowermaster)
Spacecraft (Chris Hall)
Space Pragmatism (Dan Schrimpsher)
Eternal Golden Braid (Fred Kiesche)
Carried Away (Dan Schmelzer)
Laughing Wolf (C. Blake Powers)
Chair Force Engineer (Air Force Procurement)
Saturn Follies
JesusPhreaks (Scott Bell)
The Ombudsgod
Cut On The Bias (Susanna Cornett)
Joanne Jacobs

Site designed by

Powered by
Movable Type
Biting Commentary about Infinity, and Beyond!

« Fool Me Once | Main | Now I Understand »

"Unnecessary Risk"

I got an email on my NRO piece this morning from a David Barnhart:

I would like to offer another point of view. Every astronaut death has been avoidable. Yes, people are going to die when pushing the edge of the envelope. Shit happens. But Grissom, Young, and Chaffee died because the system (NASA) built an unreliable dangerous vehicle. You only have to listen to Grissom's words days earlier complaining about the communications gear to realize that. Challenger astronauts died because the system did not listen to the real concerns of the scientists and engineers. The foam issue was always an accident waiting to happen. Columbia astronauts died because the system ignored the problem too long.

Soldiers die from EIDs but not because the command structure failed them. The soldiers' commanders are doing everything they can to eliminate unnecessary risk. That is not the case at NASA.

While it can certainly be argued that NASA management was negligent in the cases of Challenger and Columbia (and the astronauts didn't understand how risky their missions were), that can't be said in the current situation, in which everyone, including crew, are aware of the risks now, given the openness of the discussion about it. I'll bet they're eager to go, regardless.

It's very easy to talk about eliminating "unnecessary" risks. It's a lot harder to get agreement on which risks are "necessary" and which are not. The command structure in Iraq is in fact not "eliminating all unnecessary risks" to the troops. Many (e.g., war opponents) would, in fact, argue that their being in Iraq at all is an "unnecessary risk," because this was a "war of choice." Every time they are sent out on patrol without adequate armor, they are taking an "unnecessary risk." Never mind that they might be less effective in the armor, or that it costs money that might be better spent on other items. No, they're being forced to take "unnecessary risks," because soldiers' lives are of infinite value, just like those of astronauts.


Every single day that we don't fly the Shuttle represents another expenditure of over ten million dollars devoted to that program, with zero results. As I said in the column, "safe" is a relative word, not an absolute one. Flying Shuttles will never be "safe." Neither will flying the new planned CLV/CEV. For that matter, neither is driving down the freeway in your car, and I don't care what kind of car it is. There is no risk-free state except the grave. People are irrational about this, but we must make tradeoffs every day between safety, money and schedule. Rational people who recognize this develop optimum, cost effective, and relatively reliable and safe systems. Those in denial, who think that complete safety somehow can be achieved, if we only spend enough money, and delay launches long enough, give us Space Shuttle programs.

Posted by Rand Simberg at July 02, 2006 08:47 AM
TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference this post from Transterrestrial Musings.

Risk is something we all take. As a retired Navy pilot, I chose the risk - to do my duty and to do what I wanted to do.

As long as the pilot (of the shuttle, 747, F-18, V-22) are involved FULLY in the decision to 'light this candle,' then the decision will be properly assessed.

That's why they pay us the 'big' buck.



Posted by Dru Nimmich at July 2, 2006 08:59 AM

I don't know you, so I'll not call you out. Well yes I will. As a former squid I'll say, you are the ONLY person who says they flew for the Navy, who I've ever heard of, who refers to themself as a PILOT.

Accurate as that statement is, with no exceptions they everyone I've ever met or heard of say Naval Aviator. Either your letting you're brethren, and our traditions down, or the truth is not in here.

Posted by Steve at July 2, 2006 02:05 PM

Well, flying a V-22 is actually a lot more dangerous than the shuttle.

Posted by Chris Mann at July 2, 2006 06:56 PM

Nonsense Chris. The V-22 is pretty throuhly debugged by now and has a far better than a 1 in 100 fatality rate.

Posted by Mike Puckett at July 2, 2006 09:21 PM

They're about equal in hours of flight time terms.

Posted by Chris Mann at July 3, 2006 06:20 AM

Did I really chase that guy, Dru, off?!

I was expecting at least a scathing and snappy rejoinder to my post. A REAL ex-Naval Aviator would have come on for the fight.

Posted by Steve at July 3, 2006 07:44 AM


Good point - guess my generation wasn't that sensitive to the pilot/aviator terms. But I do use aviator when talking to those other pilots in light blue.

And as a 'Naval Aviator' with over 4000 thousand hours and combat time, I think I am a REAL aviator - what you think is un-important to me.

Posted by Dru at July 5, 2006 07:29 AM

Mister Nimmich,
you did what most of the AVIATORS I ever met would do. Basically you told me to "eff off". I have no problem with that.

Here is why I posted after your comment. I live in central NC, we have any number of bases here. I keep running into people around here who SAY they are ex-pilots, ex-SEALS, ex-RECON, ex-insert your favorite dangerous military job here.

Most of them can't tell you where they were trained or stationed, when they served, who they served with, etc. its all too TOP SECRET. My wife worked with a guy who was actually SO secret he couldn't get a VA loan for a house. The Marine Corps couldn't tell anyone he ever served,not for 100 years until his records could be unsealed anyway.

It all p1sses me off!! Becuase actual ex-service members generally don't go around crowing about their exploits. We generally answer when asked, but we don't go out of our way to look, act, sound cool or dangerous.

I was a Cold Warrior, 1977 to 1982, my dad was a Korean Warrier, both of my grandfathers were in WWI. My mothers father, after serving in the Italiam Army before the war, came here was drafted and was gassed and died early in life because of it. Both my sons have been to Iraq and because of my families ACTUAL service, these wannebe jerks get under my skin!

I hate wannabes, and all I want is truth from people. I never have met a wannabe who furthered the causes and rights we took an oath to uphold, or who did a good job of making the armed services look good. They are usually blow hard jerks. That may now be your impression of me, it's your right to think so and it's certainly possible that I am.

I shook your tree to see what would fall out. You did, but your wings are now plainly showing. I appologize for anything that I said or implied that may have been offending to you.

Posted by Steve at July 5, 2006 11:03 AM

Post a comment

Email Address: