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Risk Aversion At Odds With Manned Space Exploration

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the what-price-safety dept.

NASA 371

Several readers including tyghe!! sent in a Popular Mechanics piece analyzing the Augustine Commission's recommendations and NASA itself in terms of a persistent bias towards risk aversion, and arguing that such a bias is fundamentally incompatible with the mission of opening a new frontier. "Rand Simberg, a former aerospace engineer finds the report a little too innocuous. In this analysis, Simberg asks, what happens when we take the risk out of space travel? ... Aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan said a few years ago that if we're not killing people, we're not pushing hard enough. That might sound harsh to people outside the aerospace community but, as Rutan knows, test pilots and astronauts are a breed of people that willingly accepts certain risk in order to be part of great endeavors. They're volunteers and they know what they're getting into."

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Misses the point (4, Informative)

Ancient_Hacker (751168) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389227)

Missing the point.

NASA execs used to claim the chances of a bad Shuttle accident were 1 in 10,000.

That's obviously crazy-- you'd have to shoot one up every day for 30 years to get even an unreliable estimate of that level of risk.

Feynman asked around, and the actual engineers estimated 1 in 100 to 1 in 200.

So a better question is, do the astronauts have a right to hear the CORRECT figures, not the wild wishful-thinking executive estimates?

Re:Misses the point (4, Informative)

2.7182 (819680) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389259)

If you read Feynman's book he actually interviewed on exec. or engineer at NASA who said the chances of catastrophic failure were 1 in 100,000. Feynman pointed out that that this was like flying the space shuttle every day for 300 years without an accident.

Re:Misses the point (3, Informative)

PIBM (588930) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389315)

Well, you missed the small text at the bottom of the page that said "*** per component" !

Re:Misses the point (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389625)

>>>Feynman pointed out that that this was like flying the space shuttle every day for 300 years without an accident.

That's 1 out of 300*365 days. In reality NASA had 2 blowups in 1300 days of flight. So 1 in 650 odds of catastrophic failure. I'd say the engineers doing the estimating are not doing a proper job, but then I've always thought risk analysis was more voodoo than reality (like counting how many angels dance on the head of a pin).

Re:Misses the point (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389933)

I'd only call one of those a problem with the shuttle. 1 in 1300.

Re:Misses the point (4, Interesting)

Ukab the Great (87152) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389313)

According to this article [reason.com] your lifetime chance of dying in a car crash is 1 in 83.

Per-person odds, I'd take a one-time shuttle ride over a lifetime of driving.

Re:Misses the point (3, Funny)

rbanffy (584143) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389595)

"According to this article [reason.com] your lifetime chance of dying in a car crash is 1 in 83."

I am pretty sure my lifetime chances of dying in a spacecraft accident are much slimmer

Re:Misses the point (4, Funny)

palegray.net (1195047) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389703)

What if a spacecraft fails to launch properly and lands on your car while you're in it?

Re:Misses the point (1)

Jurily (900488) | more than 5 years ago | (#29390047)

According to this article your lifetime chance of dying in a car crash is 1 in 83.

Not mine. I sit in a car about three times a year.

Re:Misses the point (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389471)

9/11 Never Forget.

9/11 Never Forget.

9/11 Never Forget.

We must never forget September 11, 2001. God bless our heroes like George W. Bush who rescued us from near oblivion. History will record his noble actions and he'll be revered much like FDR, except much less communist.

Re:Misses the point (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389709)

Uhhhhmmmm, George Bush?

George failed to heed advice of anti-terror advisors prior to 9/11.

George failed to capture Osama bin Laden.

George failed to find terrorists in Iraq.

George failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

George failed to observe human rights conventions regarding prisoners.

George failed.

________________________________________________________

9/11 Never Forget. Leave your politics out of it, alright? The victims don't deserve to have a failure lauded as a hero in the same paragraph as they are mentioned. While you're at it, write a letter to Dick Cheney, and tell him shut the hell up, and go home. We don't need that torturing bastard to sully the American flag any longer. If Cheney ever prevented anything, he prevented the CIA from properly doing it's job.

9/11 NEVER FORGET!!

Re:Misses the point (0, Offtopic)

andymadigan (792996) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389837)

Less communist, and yet somehow more Stalinist.

FDR wasn't communist, he saved capitalism.

Re:Misses the point (4, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389503)

So a better question is, do the astronauts have a right to hear the CORRECT figures, not the wild wishful-thinking executive estimates?

What makes you think they aren't aware of the true risks of what's involved? Who else would be in a better position to know them? I've always assumed the drivel that comes out of the NASA execs is intended for public consumption. The astronauts themselves are aware of what they are getting into.

Re:Misses the point (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389851)

>>>I've always assumed the drivel that comes out of the NASA execs is intended for public consumption

It's never a good idea to lie to your boss (the people). They might catch you in the lie, and then you've lost their trust. Or worse - they might revolt.

Re:Misses the point (2, Interesting)

zippthorne (748122) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389971)

I don't think they are. The odds come out to ~1 in 50 flights having a fatal accident. Now, even with columbia, that makes the Shuttle the safest spacecraft ever, but that's still pretty crappy. Now, the reason I think they're getting smoke blown up their arses about the shuttle specifically is that some of them have families.

1 in 50 is an insane risk for someone with kids to come home to. No sane parent would take those odds. And definitely no one would compound the risk by repeatedly casting the die. Rick Husband was on two flights. His lifetime risk was worse than 1/26.

Re:Misses the point (3, Interesting)

orthancstone (665890) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389537)

So a better question is, do the astronauts have a right to hear the CORRECT figures, not the wild wishful-thinking executive estimates?

Do you really think the original badasses who fought hard to be a part of the program were concerned with the executive estimates?

THAT statement is a perfect example of the difference between now and then. They knew damn well that risk was a major part of it; they flew in the face of it anyway. Today, we care more about someone's calculated "risk aversion" numbers than we do about staring in the face of a challenge, albeit it risky, and going for it. If someone's willing to risk it all to meet the challenge, we don't need some desk jockey's numbers stopping him or her.

Re:Misses the point (5, Interesting)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389935)

People need to stop and think a little. Back in the 1400's and 1500's when people were exploring the world, who went out? Was it the candy asses? Did the mama's boys go forth? The fruit cakes who dressed up as dandies to hang around a court yard in some dank castle? Of course not.

I can write paragraphs badmouthing old Chris Columbus, and the conquistadors who put much of Latin America to the torch, raping, murdering, and plundering. Paragraphs? Hell, I could write books! But, despite that, they were badass mofos. Yeah, they had a lot of luck on their side, not to mention some slightly advanced technology, germ warfare was on their side, and they had better warfare strategies and tactics. But, they were badasses, willing to put their lives on the line.

The same goes for all the other settlers who came to the new world. Candy asses and sissies who counted the risk assessment beans stayed at home, or at least waited many years for the real bad asses to create a safe place for them.

Today? Phhht.

I put my faith in SpaceX and places like China to put man into space. The US government has to many bean counters who won't risk losing a few beans.

I've said it before, I'll repeat it here. I'll haul my ass up onto that rocket making a one-way trip to Mars. Light that big bastard off, and send me on my way. You would do better to send a younger man - but if you can't find one with the balls to go, I'm ready. Just send the equipment and supplies necessary for the job, and I'll put in a few years work, trying to find a reason that convinces the candy asses that it is worth sending a colony to Mars.

Don't worry about any silly assed funeral when I finally croak - when the time comes, I'll drop my drawers and lie face down in plain site of the earth. Those who count will remember me - and the rest can kiss my ass.

The astronauts would go anyway... (2, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389551)

Even if they made (eg.) a "one way" trip to Mars you'd have people queuing around the block to sign up.

I'd go.

Re:The astronauts would go anyway... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29390035)

Isn't this what 'Project Virgle' is essentially trying to do?

Re:Misses the point (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389641)

So a better question is, do the astronauts have a right to hear the CORRECT figures, not the wild wishful-thinking executive estimates?

If it's not EXPLICITLY stated in the US Constitution then they don't; and it is TYRANNICAL for any government to force anyone facing extreme danger to be properly informed of that fact! America isn't a COMMUNIST country, at least not yet.

Re:Misses the point (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389919)

>>>If it's not EXPLICITLY stated in the US Constitution then they don't;

Actually the U.S. Constitution is quite clear - the power to spend money on space launches belongs to the 50 State governments. Just like how the EU is not empowered to do launches, but France, the UK, and so on are.

Re:Misses the point (2, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | more than 5 years ago | (#29390009)

Actually the U.S. Constitution is quite clear - the power to spend money on space launches belongs to the 50 State governments.

Actually, since space flight is essential for defence (spy satellites), general welfare (weather satellites) and interstate commerce (communication satellites), it is quite clearly within the power and duty of Federal government to spend money on.

Re:Misses the point (1)

furby076 (1461805) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389913)

The research is sketchy in this article. Many people would take the risk in going - but most people are not qualified. You just don't send anyone (due to cost, resources, etc) you send out people who can offer something. Would I go? Hell yea. What could I offer? Maybe some leadership, a joke or two, maybe some muscle if they need it. Other then that - i have no flight training, scientific skill at that level, medical training...wait wait - once they implement kitchens I am a damn good cook...but until then the astronauts have to settle for dehydrated ice cream.

So yes - tons of people would go - tons of people would not be eligible to go (at least not until we get to the point where space flight is just as routine as hopping in an air plane or in a car).
-----------
Scuba Engagement [youtube.com]

So, let's kill em all? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389231)

So, let's kill em all? But it is true, if we never fail in doing anything, it must be because we are not doing it!

this must mean that Microsoft is doing a lot, because they fail allot...

Re:So, let's kill em all? Only way to be sure (5, Funny)

Dareth (47614) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389295)

The only way to be sure to "kill em all" is to nuke them from orbit, but that requires a Space Program.

Re:So, let's kill em all? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389297)

So, let's kill em all? ... and let God sort them out. Think of it as Creative Design in action.

Re:So, let's kill em all? (0)

Ozlanthos (1172125) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389391)

Well it is true that you have to fail occasionally in order to learm, but releasing an OS prior to completion is just looking for trouble.

-Oz

Risk aversion stems from funding sources (5, Insightful)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389249)

IMHO, a big reason why NASA spends so much time on risk aversion is the fickle, uneducated, uninformed and misinformed nature of who they get their funding from aka Congress. I offer into evidence the fact that McGovern wanted desperately to kill off Apollo after the Apollo 1 fire. Traditional market-based sources of funding can evaporate after a major disaster but there will always be people who believe in the mission statement and they don't change with the political winds.

Re:Risk aversion stems from funding sources (1, Informative)

m0s3m8n (1335861) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389443)

I think it was Walter Mondale, but nonetheless, you are absolutely correct.

Re:Risk aversion stems from funding sources (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389701)

Yes, Mondale, thanks.

Re:Risk aversion stems from funding sources (5, Insightful)

Zantac69 (1331461) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389505)

Spot on - but you are forgetting the other "fickle, uneducated, uninformed and misinformed" gorilla in the room - and that is the American public. If you look back at ANYTHING in the past that cost a lot of lives - it would never have happened if the American public was full "informed" as to the real cost of lives. To John/Jane Q Public, lives should only be risked if John/Jane's arses are on the line - maintaining the status quo but never for advancement.

Space exploration and innovation is something that is far too important to be left in the hands of the "American public" or Congress.

Re:Risk aversion stems from funding sources (1)

hansoloaf (668609) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389611)

Believe it or not I think the public is fine with space exploration and the risks involved.
It's the bullshit media that likes to build up the drama and dangers of space travel in order to sell.
This leads the political establishment to react thinking they need to look good in having silly hearings, pushing for this and that.
Thus the NASA becomes nervous and more risk averse.
Not that I am putting the blame on the media alone just that they are a big part of this and the lack of spine among Congress and NASA members.

Re:Risk aversion stems from funding sources (2, Interesting)

Canazza (1428553) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389567)

The difference between then and now is that the political climate was one of "We must beat the Russians at all costs" - as such alot of people got to play with the frontiers of knowledge. We're at a point in history where international struggles don't contribute much to the space programme. Business does. We're in a recession, and the space programme is at the mercy of budget cuts. There is more than one dissenting voice in congress now.

Re:Risk aversion stems from funding sources (1)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389671)

Traditional market-based sources of funding can evaporate after a major disaster but there will always be people who believe in the mission statement and they don't change with the political winds.

Name me one company, just one, that has provided a significant and continuous source of funding for a major project that it believed in, even when the going got tough.

Just one.

Re:Risk aversion stems from funding sources (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389715)

Apple Computer.

Re:Risk aversion stems from funding sources (1)

plague3106 (71849) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389825)

The alternative for Apple was to close down its own doors.

Re:Risk aversion stems from funding sources (2, Informative)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389811)

Westinghouse didn't waver when Edison was waging his FUD and lobbying campaign against them. The railroad industry was plagued with disasters and bad press for many years but kept building out their infrastructure and are still around today. The White Star line didn't stop building ships after the Titanic sunk.

There's three examples right off the top of my head. I'm sure others can think of more.

On Decision Heuristics: (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389257)

I recommend Kahneman and Tversky [google.com] .

I hope this helps the discussion.

Yours In Akademgorodok,
Kilgore Trout

This is absolutely true (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389263)

We put a huge amount of effort to reach insane levels of safety.
The time and cost of a project goes up geometrically with the "percentage" safety margin required.
Ultimately this causes projects to get extremely expensive and complicated. Complicated enough that it is often unsafe again.

Working in the space industry, I know they allowed things to happen in the apollo program that would never be considered acceptable today. I think this is *somehow* associated with a growing feeling that we cannot accomplish the same goals we could in the past.

I doubt there'll be much progress from us now (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389269)

Western society in general has become risk averse. Indeed, it is somewhat apparent even here on /. I suspect it is because we have become so sedentary - our jobs involve sitting in chairs all day.

When compounding the risk-aversion with overall government indecisiveness/inefficiency, I believe there won't be much significant progress in Western manned space exploration for the foreseeable future.

I hope I'm wrong.

Re:I doubt there'll be much progress from us now (3, Insightful)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389395)

I think that western society has correctly reassessed the value of life. When you consider that it costs roughly 200k to raise a child in the United States, trading that human's life for certain goals is not necessarily worthwhile now, while it would have been worthwhile 200 or even 100 years ago.

On the other hand, there can be too much of a thing. Exploration, be it arctic, submarine, or interplanetary, is inherently dangerous. Nevertheless, it needs to be done. We need to get off of this single basket and onto other planets or our species is done. That is not generally considered in the life value equation and it needs to be.

Re:I doubt there'll be much progress from us now (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389501)

>>"I think that western society has correctly reassessed the value of life. When you consider that it costs roughly 200k to raise a child in the United States, trading that human's life for certain goals is not necessarily worthwhile now, while it would have been worthwhile 200 or even 100 years ago. "

If what you write is true, then Western society will be (is?) in decline. Others who make a different valuation will take the risks. They will reap the rewards - as well they should. We'll be the poor spectators.

Re:I doubt there'll be much progress from us now (1)

gr8_phk (621180) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389535)

When you consider that it costs roughly 200k to raise a child in the United States, trading that human's life for certain goals is not necessarily worthwhile now, while it would have been worthwhile 200 or even 100 years ago.

So if it costs $400K to raise a child and get them ready to be an astronaut, why should we add Billions of dollars cost to ensure their safety? Remember, this is a person willing to take the risk. Why should safety cost SO much more than the person?

Now when they had doubt about launching on a cold morning, the cost of delaying would not have been very high so I'd agree with you on that. The loss was actually a lot higher than the 7 people - the PR issue for killing a teacher, and the loss of all the reusable components.

Re:I doubt there'll be much progress from us now (3, Insightful)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389589)

I think that western society has correctly reassessed the value of life

Life is valuable but our efforts to protect it have gone too far in the other direction. We spend inordinate amounts of money trying to build a risk free world rather than accepting the fact that some activities/professions are inherently dangerous. We've created a society of sheep that scare easily and run crying to the nearest lawyer and/or politician whenever some reminder that life can actually still be dangerous smacks them across the face. To borrow one of the best /. sig's I've ever seen: If you spend all your time childproofing the world you aren't going to have any time to worldproof your child.

Some things are worth risking your life over. Would you volunteer to go into space if the opportunity presented itself? Would you volunteer to test an experimental AIDS or cancer vaccine? Would you assist a fellow citizen who was being victimized by some thug? Would you jump into the ocean to save a drowning person? Would you intervene if you saw someone being attacked by an animal?

Re:I doubt there'll be much progress from us now (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389891)

Pretty sure when it comes to NASA lives aren't being calculated at 200k. Something more like 50million. If NASA could throw 200k into their risk calculations we'd be moving forward much MUCH faster. It is actually quite interesting that because people are so squeamish calculating the value of a human life they make decisions without doing so. This of course results in a value being put on someone's life but without thinking about it first. This ends up with a human life having all kinds of weird values.

Cars for example put it between 200k and 500k. The Ford pinto famously put it at 15k (in the 70s). Airplanes are something like 1million. Asbestos ban worked out to be 110million dollar value on a life. The hazardous waste listing for wood preserving chemicals cost 5.7 trillion dollars per human life (It likely will never save a life).

If society could get it together and NASA could just set a number like 200k, this wouldnt be a problem AT ALL.

It's not just NASA (4, Insightful)

russotto (537200) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389275)

American society is risk averse to pathological levels in general.

Re:It's not just NASA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389419)

Reverse this risk aversion by making it okay to have accidents and doing risky things.

Kill all lawyers and do a complete overhaul of your laws.

I wonder (2, Insightful)

copponex (13876) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389527)

I wonder if that's because it's run by lawyers, bankers, and insurance companies?

On an even deeper philosophical level, when you are only encouraged to measure success by wealth, I don't think anyone should be surprised at the shortsighted nature of American innovation at the moment. Many hard problems are not profitable to solve, so all of our capital is flooding into financial services and marketing. I don't imagine we can make a space program out of that.

Re:I wonder (1)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389679)

Many hard problems are not profitable to solve, so all of our capital is flooding into financial services and marketing.

So make them profitable to solve. Want to help solve climate change? Get rid of the regulatory/legal processes that give an inordinate amount of power to the NIMBY/BANANA crowd. Why should I invest my capital in wind farms or a nuclear power plant when a handful of loud assholes can tie me up in court for years before I even get to break ground? Everybody wants green energy but nobody wants to look at a wind farm or cooling tower. Everybody wants good wireless service but nobody wants to look at a cell phone tower. If these people had always had this much power we'd still be reading by candlelight, relying on snail mail and using horse drawn carriages to get around.

Re:It's not just NASA (1)

2obvious4u (871996) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389955)

Have you been on YouTube lately? American's are anything but risk averse (at least as individuals).

Example One. [youtube.com]
Example Two. [youtube.com]
Example Three. [youtube.com]

I could find more examples, but I don't have time to find them for you. Needless to say there are a lot of Americans that aren't risk averse. Wait what am I saying, there are just a lot of stupid people who don't realize how dangerous the things they are doing really are.

Life is terminal (5, Insightful)

NoYob (1630681) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389277)

That might sound harsh to people outside the aerospace community but, as Rutan knows, test pilots and astronauts are a breed of people that willingly accepts certain risk in order to be part of great endeavors.

After reading about some of those guys, if you made the program too safe, they'd take up free climbing or something else to get the rush. The possibility of dying early gives it that rush.

We're such a death phobic society - no wonder terrorists can just flinch and send us into girly girl panics.

Re:Life is terminal (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389731)

We're such a death phobic society - no wonder terrorists can just flinch and send us into girly girl panics

It didn't use to be that way. I'm trying to put my finger on when this happened -- but once you almost die in an auto wreck, you're going to wear your seat belt. I'm guessing it happened with 9-11 and the government/media reaction. The terrorists won.

Re:Life is terminal (2, Insightful)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389953)

If you almost die in an auto wreck, you are going to wear your safety belt.

What happened with 9-11 is more like getting a bad concussion in an auto wreck and then never driving or riding in a car again, and blowing up the dealership that sold you the car.

Re:Life is terminal (2, Interesting)

Kjella (173770) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389885)

I'd say it's a perfectly natural reaction to the way society has evolved. We are continuously improving medicine and safety so that less and less people die early of injury and illness. The average life expectancy has gone somewhat up too, but the outliers have gotten a lot smaller. If you survive your first year there's a 90% probability you'll be 55+ years old and 70% probability of becoming 70+ and that is total figures including all Darwin award winners, suicides, drug overdoses and whatnot. Normal healthy people are probably way higher than that again, so you kinda come to expect it.

Even those doing extreme sports are fairly non-extreme when it comes to dying. It's more the thrill of bungee jumping, skydiving and mountain climbing than the reality that you're using extremely tested equipment with lots of procedures to ensure you actually don't die even though you're hanging off a cliff edge. Of course there's the really, really extreme but they're few enough to be statistical noise. I guess those are the people we should use for space exploration, but don't expect people to understand them. Even the thrillseekers don't seem to understand those that are really careless with their lives.

Burt is right (2, Insightful)

Cornwallis (1188489) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389309)

Aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan said a few years ago that if we're not killing people, we're not pushing hard enough.

Would that we could apply this to Democrats and Republicans.

Re:Burt is right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389563)

Would that we could apply this to Democrats and Republicans.

Well you must be happy to know that Glenn Beck, Boss Limbaugh, et al. are working hard at it already.

Re:Burt is right (0)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389669)

[citation needed]

Re:Burt is right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389681)

Well, you must be happy to know that you are an idiot. Beck properly called out Van "I'm being smeared" Jones who got all whiney when all people did was point out facts.

Re:Burt is right (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29390011)

Aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan said a few years ago that if we're not killing people, we're not pushing hard enough.

Would that we could apply this to Democrats and Republicans.

Have you heard about the people bringing guns to presidential events?

Way ahead of you.

So, let's all fail (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389333)

So, they say. This is very much true. If we never fail it must mean we are not trying everything, right?

Of errors we learn allot. This must mean that Microsoft is doing allot of new technology and stuff because they look like they are failing allot. So, right way to go MS!

Breaking News... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389343)

Space flight is risky

Film at 11 (10 central) of challenger and Coumbia

Space Flight is risky (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389649)

So is staying on this planet...

Film of recreation of the Chicxulub impact on the NatGeo, Science and History channels...

The only way to be sure of the long term survival of the human race is to get off this rock.

risk aversion THE moderen disease (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389363)

This darn stupid dumb assed risk aversion is an infuriatingly American infection that is being spread world wide by thieving scumbag money grabbing lawyers and the sooner there are legal moves to BAN thme all then the sooner we can back to some proper exploration of space , People we need VERY VERY BADLY to get our sorry arses of this lump of space junk we call home and before any of you wets fire up yes i would volenteer if the chance came along of that you can be absolutley certain you see i aint a WHIMP.

PeteN

Re:risk aversion THE moderen disease (1)

hoggoth (414195) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389557)

> scumbag [...] lawyers and the sooner there are legal moves to BAN thme all

Yeah! We need to initiate LEGAL MOVES to ban all lawyers. Wait, what?

Thankfully... (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389365)

... China and India will do some pretty awesome things in the next couple of decades, by using the go go go mentality we had in the 60s.

Hopefully, getting passed in current race will take us back to that attitude.

Re:Thankfully... (2, Insightful)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389475)

It's already happening, the same way it went with GM, Ford and Chrysler vs Honda, Toyota, Nissan.

You have to be pro-active with these things. If you're only reactive then it's already too late and the curve just to catch up to your competition is even harder, makes it look even more impossible, making you give up more easily.

Worst of both worlds (1)

6Yankee (597075) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389367)

We are killing people, and we aren't trying hard enough.

Re:Worst of both worlds (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389521)

We are killing people....

No, not really-- two in-flight accidents in forty-seven years of spaceflight. Try comparing that record to the first years of aviation.

The problem is, when there is an accident, it's memorable. The Challenger accident was 22 years ago, but people still bring it up to show how unsafe the shuttle is.

Re:Worst of both worlds (1)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389675)

The Challenger accident was 22 years ago, but people still bring it up to show how unsafe the shuttle is.

That's probably to remind you that it is in fact a deathtrap. It has no escape system and is subject to multiple unnecessary failure modes due to its launch configuration and trying to make it look like an airplane.

NASA is not risk-adverse at all. They've been making people fly in that dangerous Rube Goldberg contraption for decades. It was obvious in the first few years that the Shuttle was never going to be cost-effective, reliable or safe. If they had canned it back then and replaced it with a reasonable launch system, *then* NASA would have been avoiding risks. Maybe they've kept flying it just for the thrill factor.

Comment on test-piloting (3, Insightful)

Todd Knarr (15451) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389369)

Attributed to an old test pilot: "Come on. My job is to get in an airplane that's never flown before, of a design that's never flown before, usually with lots of parts that've never been used in an airplane before, and go up and find out what it's performance limits are, usually by going past them. This is not an inherently safe activity.". I think most astronauts would agree with that sentiment. They know it's a risky activity, and they're there because they want to be there doing this strongly enough to outweigh the inherent risks. They'd probably rather not take stupid and unnecessary risks, but if it's a choice between taking the risks and never seeing space, well, to quote from Leslie Fish, "And before you take my dream / I will see you in Hell.".

Re:Comment on test-piloting (1)

idontgno (624372) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389605)

Another piece of related gallows humor: "Never forget that your [spacecraft]* was manufactured by the lowest bidder."

*Original version, military-oriented, used "weapon" in this spot. For test pilots, many of whom were military and test-flying warplanes, this is a perfect 100% correlation.

Discovering the unknown, whether the unknown flight characteristics of a new prototype airplane or the unknown "out there" in space (or even across an uncharted ocean, 500 years ago) is a risky proposition.

The situation we find ourselves in is a perverse balance between risk aversion and risk denial. Aversion mode is driven by the perception that spaceflight is like aviation, and millions of people log billions of miles a year in the air, so spaceflight should be as perceptually safe as any routine activity. Any indication of spaceflight being more dangerous than climbing onto a 757 and winging your way to visit Grandma and we get into a tizzy. The people who manage the programs and funding of space exploration have to contend with that PR crapstorm.

In denial mode, the people running space programs come to believe the hype and act as if space exploration were routine. Schedule and performance pressure, based out of unrealistic expectations of reliability and capability, encourage the decision-makers to actively "tune out" known risks (even ones that could be mitigated or fixed). Competent engineers find actual flaws with known probable failure modes, recommend fix action, and get denied or put off because the fixes take time and money that management don't think they can fight for. And let's face it, not every manager is going to expend their political capital in order to prevent something that may not happen anyways. I've actually dealt with engineering managers whose mindset was "the chance of that happening is 0% until it actually happens, so I'm not gonna go to war with program management to fix that."

Re:Comment on test-piloting (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389685)

Exactly. When the Challenger blew up, I asked a Air Force friend of mine if they asked him to fly in the next one, would he go, and his reply was, "In a heartbeat. It's a chance to go to space."

Besides, adrenalin is fun stuff.

The real shame... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389451)

The astronauts actually are risking their lives, just doing rather mundane work. pick your epitath xxx xxx died during sts-xxx as a payload specialist. or xxxx xxx died on the surface of mars Heroically expanding Mankinds reach to other worlds.
While dying sucks either way I'd much rather choose the latter for all of us.

evolvhealth (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389485)

Democrats and republicans? heheeh launching Oct. 2009 http://Evolvhealthy.com

Low rewards calls for low risk (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389493)

If the benefits from your particular mission are small - maybe negligible, such as simply a P.R. exercise, or to fulfill some political posturing, then it's right that people's lives should not be put at risk. However, if the rewards are great - such as diverting a killer asteroid, then the amount of "acceptable" (that's to the people on the mission, not those who stand to benefit) risk is far greater - and the people who undertake them or volunteer should be considered heroes.

What NASA trying to reduce the amount of life-risk tells us, is that they don't consider their missions to be particularly important. Let's face it: they're right. Nothing they've done has saved the world. Nothing they plan to do will really have much effect on humanity - apart from some temporary fame-by-association for some transient politicians. Most of the things we are made aware of come from unmanned missions and satellite data - not from having people floating around, building a space-station for 20 years.

Re:Low rewards calls for low risk (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389783)

NASA has been handed a nickle and has been asked to build a castle. NASA has not made any significant contributions since Apollo because they have been on an ever tightening budget with ever expanding demand for action. Its amazing that they have managed to hold on for this long. Give them a reasonable budget (50 to 100 billion/year) and we would have a permanent moon/mars colonies, the ability to deflect potentially killer NEOs such as Apophis (1/45000 chance of impact in 2036 with an impact of almost 900 megatons), and quite a bit more in less than 15 years.

How soon we forget (2, Insightful)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389561)

Those NASA executives have forgotten how they got on this continent. Their ancestors walked around glaciers or risked their lives on ships to get here. Then they had to find ways to stay alive long enough to have children. Then their children went to the Wal-Mart and stocked up on microwave popcorn.

Re:How soon we forget (1)

Ozric (30691) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389733)

It's a dangerous business stepping out your door........
I too will guarantee that for everyone living and reading this right now, death is a 100% certainty.
Get over it, no pain no gain.

Re:How soon we forget (1)

bazorg (911295) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389937)

Well actually, the King of Portugal thought that finding a trade route to India by sailing West was a stupid and dangerous idea and he refused to commission that adventure. Columbus went to Spain and got the funding he needed. So let NASA work for other countries and new Jamaicas may be found (even if they're looking for India).

Re:How soon we forget (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29390041)

My favorite statistic? Every single one of the original 75 Roanoke colonists died sometime during the *first* winter in 1585. The next 117 disappeared completely (see Croatoan).

It took until 1607 until a colony in the Americas survived for more than a year. Oh, and only barely. 500 colonists landed in 1607, 60 greeted a supply boat in 1610.

Estimates range from two to twenty thousand dead colonists before the American continent was viable.

Lives are risked for things much less important (4, Insightful)

dm513 (1377097) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389569)

If manned space exploration is too dangerous...What about all the spectator sports and events that risk human life for no reward other than the thrill?...and maybe a lot of money. NASCAR racing is incredibly dangerous...Skydiving is dangerous...What about "the running of the bulls?"...People get killed playing baseball!...And none of the people taking these risks is getting us any closer to the moon or any other celestial destination... Men and women climb mountains and dive deep into the seas looking for adventure...Why then is manned space exploration too dangerous? It is expensive and dangerous going somewhere faraway in a new way first...No matter whether it's on the Earth or in the sky...The explorers who "found" the new world knew this...How now can it be so hard for us to accept?

Re:Lives are risked for things much less important (1)

FlyingBishop (1293238) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389965)

Most of those people haven't undergone training that costs millions of dollars. People with the kind of training we put astronauts through are very difficult to replace.

'Sports' like NASCAR or the running of the bulls, not so much. I'm not arguing that the positions take skill, but if we lose skilled people, others step in from the lower ranks of people who are doing exactly the same thing to take their place. We don't have an Astronaut reserve force waiting around. I mean, we do, but they have zero experience, and have gone through the same incredibly expensive training the on-call ones did.

Health & safety (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389573)

The natural progression for health & safety officers after stopping kids playing in the playground is to stop astronauts going into space...

They were going to run out of fun things to stop eventually!

Not Just Risk to Human Lives (1)

CopaceticOpus (965603) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389587)

Putting astronauts in danger is not the only risk which we fearfully avoid. There is very little willingness to pour resources into cutting edge technologies. New technologies could fail, or they could revolutionize space travel, but we won't know if we're not willing to explore the possibilities. Rather than exploring something like nuclear propulsion or a launch loop, we spend billions developing another chemical rocket platform, and in some respects taking a step back from the abilities of the Space Shuttle.

It's not really NASA's fault so much as it is a lack of national will. NASA has to act as a slave to public opinion, because their funding is continually at risk of drying up. To keep the public happy, don't kill any astronauts, don't try any project without a predictable payoff, and never mention the word nuclear.

I've never understood... (1)

arcsimm (1084173) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389591)

I've never understood NASA's fear of danger in space flight. I mean, when you get right down to it, as an astronaut you're strapping yourself to the top of a giant tube full of explosives that's burning at one end while it flies to a place where there's nothing to breathe and more radiation than you'll find just about anywhere outside of a particle accelerator. Shit happens, and if the people who are taking those risks are okay with them, than to hell with the rest of it.

I have the feeling that space is going to be colonized by other governments (i.e. China) or private enterprises, because our own government is so frightened of everything that could possibly go wrong, ever, that it doesn't have the wherewithal for serious manned missions anymore.

War vs. New Frontiers, or: What's wrong with us? (5, Insightful)

yogibaer (757010) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389645)

I find it most astounding that once it comes to manned space missions governments start whining about the risk for life and limb of the volunteers and the enormous costs involved. Whereas the same governments have no problems whatsoever to put close to half a million citizens at risk in various wars around the globe (remind me please, what is the purpose of the Iraq War again?) The campaign in Iraq alone would have paid for missions to moon and mars and back again including a hot spa and an acre of green grass for the various habitats. Add to that all the money that is poured in smart weaponry and the next best way to blast a target from (or in) orbit and a sizable population could live on Mars before the century is over. Somehow the world is upside down and we have totally lost our bearings. Let the terrorists rot in the holes they dug for themselves and lets do something useful for a change. Heal the planet, feed the people, solve the energy problem and lets colonize our own back yard. That should keep us happily occupied for the next 200 years. OUR future is out there not that of bunch of tin cans with shiny wheels and solar panels.

Re:War vs. New Frontiers, or: What's wrong with us (1)

canajin56 (660655) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389787)

The thing about taking funding from the people who build smart bombs, tanks, and ballistic missiles, is they have all the bombs, tanks, and missiles.

Wars today a perfect example of risk aversion (2, Insightful)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389977)

because we certainly don't fight to win. We take incredible precaution to not harm the "civilians" and wonder why there never seems to and end to the war or an end to the other sides ability to recruit.

We have become such a risk averse culture in the West that we could not fight World War ][ all over again because too many would be screaming about killing non-direct combatants. You don't win a war by being nice. You win in by breaking the spirit of the opponent and their support mechanism. Its mean, its cruel, but its true.

Again, Iraq has nothing to do with NASA's budgetary woes. Granted the money used there "COULD HAVE BEEN" used for NASA but we all know that is not true. NASA's budget has been remarkably well insulated from the costs of our little wars throughout the years. The problem faces is to do big things requires a big budget but rocket science is not open to the general public (blame culture and government schools) so such large funding does not generate the requisite number of votes that new roads, pools, and libraries do.

What are the benefits? (1)

Issildur03 (1173487) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389655)

There have been a few articles on manned space exploration recently, and it seems that the main issue never seems to be addressed: what's the point of sending humans to space? Can someone explain to me why, at this point in history, we need to send humans out into space - along with the food and water and oxygen and extra safety measures they need to survive? The data collection, analysis, and transmission will be conducted by robots whether the mission involves humans or not. What sorts of decisions can they make on-site that won't be made from the control center, and what skills can they contribute that a robot can't match?

Exactly (5, Funny)

lymond01 (314120) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389661)

My half elven paladin has exactly the same thinking as an astronaut. He knows the risks. He knows that no matter how many elixirs of healing he brings, no matter whether his friend Drugar the Troll Barbarian is sober or not, things might go south. You think you're raiding an underground goblin camp, you open that door and BAM! Red frickin' dragon. Not much you can do about a red dragon at close range except poor some good ol' A1 steak sauce on yourself to make a worthwhile meal.

Sometimes you rummage around in your sack for treasure and it turns out to be a bag of devouring. That's all I'm sayin'.

Money or People? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389723)

Maybe the Risk Aversion is to spare dollars not people. Just imagine if 5 out of 7 launches failed to complete its mission.

clearly not the case (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389763)

The Ares I is being designed to kill the astronauts, even if they use the escape mechanism! All this just to keep a few people in Idaho employed.

That's not the sign of a risk adverse organization.

It has more to do with the American Public (1)

Xaedalus (1192463) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389771)

Speaking as a member of the Cold Y generation, I believe a lot of the decline of the space program has to do with the attitude of the American public in general. I think our government, our military, and NASA would cheerfully push the envelope if they could, but as a number of different posters have pointed out previously in this thread, the biggest obstacle is us as a people. Even though we all benefit now from technologies developed then, space travel still means completely nothing to the average American citizen. They take microwave ovens for granted, for instance. Most people (excluding most everyone on /.) aren't aware (or particularly care) that a lot of our world dominance came from the technologies developed in the space race. To them, the Moon is just the moon, unreachable and nothing comes from it except reflected sunlight. No one they know goes to space, no one they know works in the space industry. But they ARE affected by climate change, and by social problems like crime, homelessness, poverty, etc. I feel that's why we hear so many calls for abolishing the space program or reducing its funding: because our politicians are being told by the American people that they consider climate change et al more important than a space program. They see more tangible results from funding going towards social concerns than putting a base on Mars. If we ever really want to get the space program going again, we have to present the American public with either a threat (Soviet dominance of space in the 50's and 60's), or one hell of an opportunity that they can understand. My personal favorite option is the sudden appearance of a star-faring alien race... but fat chance of that happening :O(

Re:It has more to do with the American Public (1)

Daxx22 (1610473) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389963)

No kidding. WTB a RAMA type event.

the original estimate was 1 in 80. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389831)

The original estimate was 1 in 80. Seems to me like they hit it on the nose.

Safety, Cost and Engineering. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389859)

There are a few assumptions that I think were missed.
1. Test pilots and astronauts are risk taking.
They're not.
Sure they do a dangerous job, but they're not taking crazy risks. The first flight of a new aircraft isn't a full battery of aerobatics for a reason.
Like professional stuntmen, they do something that seems risky, but the situation is carefully monitored and controlled to limit these risks to an acceptable level.
"There are old pilots and bold pilots, but there are no old bold pilots."

2. That safety results in a net increase in cost, or that a lower level of safety will save money.
Safety in aerospace is to a large extent simply reliable systems.
A properly designed reliable system may cost more in design, somewhat more in implementation, but the difference is often not that large, and the benefits come out during use and subsequent upgrades.
Look at the typical software application, the properly designed system takes more time in design, and might be more work in the actual "construction". However at the end you often end up with a more stable, higher performing application that is easier to maintain and upgrade. Physical systems are the same.

3. The goal of the space program is to get to the finish line.
The other goals is to develop technical knowledge, the triumph of landing a man on the moon is nice, the real value however was in all the technology and other things that were learned trying to get there.

What "manned space exploration"? Who's exploring? (2, Interesting)

Doghouse Riley (1072336) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389865)

I'd ride a spacecraft with a 20% chance of catastrophic failure if I could get an in-person view of Valles Marineris. No doubt about it. But to fly into low earth orbit so that I can press a button which starts an automated experiment....it better be close to 747-level reliability.

Cost and Safety (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#29389889)

I watched an Elon Musk (SpaceX) interview (I think on WIRED) where they talked about the dangers of space flight and how having it in the commercial sector, where profit is a main concern, could conflict with safety.

His answer was interesting in that he pointed out that cost and safety are not directly related, which seems counter intuitive at first. The Space Shuttle had wings, very expensive, complicated, and made safety more difficult. The standard 'capsule' design is instead very simple, cheap, and has plenty of safety advantages. This was just one anecdote, but it makes sense that a simple design, which can cost less, can be safer than a more complicated, expensive one.

Not just the space program... (1, Flamebait)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389895)

It's most of society now. People are so wrapped up in a single death that they make things worse for everyone. Death happens, you cant stop it forever.

A few years ago in WWI&II casualties were in the thousands and hundreds of thousands. Now they are in the dozens yet there is more protest over them than before. Life-support for people who are already dead costs millions and consumes resources otherwise usable for those that still have a chance. Prisons are full of career criminals who are little more than animals, but we have to be nice to them so that when we let them out again they can continue their life of crime. Homeowners are prosecuted for murder after killing a violent intruder in their homes or on the street (google harold fish). Gun control advocates cry about how dangerous guns are, ignoring the mountains of evidence showing they reduce violent crime and are more likely to be used in legal self-defense than in a crime.

because, if it saves even one life, isn't it worth anything in the world? Including the life of another?

Re:Not just the space program... (1)

JockTroll (996521) | more than 5 years ago | (#29389923)

Well said: Death is a wimp, and we shit on its face. Scythe-wielding loserboy.

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