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What Is an Astronaut's Life Worth?

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the how-well-can-they-tap-dance dept.

NASA 285

An anonymous reader writes "Dr. Robert Zubrin has some interesting ideas about what it costs to have an astronaut on the payroll. He says if you’re going to 'give up four billion dollars to avoid a one in seven chance of killing an astronaut, you’re basically saying an astronaut’s life is worth twenty-eight billion dollars.' He wrote about the same subject earlier this year for Reason magazine, saying, 'Keeping astronauts safe merits significant expenditure. But how much? There is a potentially unlimited set of testing procedures, precursor missions, technological improvements, and other protective measures that could be implemented before allowing human beings to once again try flying to other worlds. Were we to adopt all of them, we would wind up with a human spaceflight program of infinite cost and zero accomplishment. In recent years, the trend has moved in precisely that direction, with NASA’s manned spaceflight effort spending more and more to accomplish less and less. If we are to achieve anything going forward, we have to find some way to strike a balance between human life and mission accomplishment.'"

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285 comments

Market economy to the rescue (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654329)

As long as the kind of people you need keep queuing up to become astronauts, reduce costs. They are the ones whose asses are on the line, so if they're OK with it, do it.

Re: worth! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654379)

An astronaut life isn't worth shit, now that the u.s. government has privatized everything to the British royals.

Re: worth! (5, Funny)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#40654393)

An astronaut life isn't worth shit, now that the u.s. government has privatized everything to the British royals.

That gives me a great idea. Send the Royal Family into space. That way if they don't come down it saves a fortune on the honours roll to the UK, and we'd probably have as many tourists visiting Buckingham Palace as the French do to the Louvre.

Re: worth! (-1, Offtopic)

TemperedAlchemist (2045966) | about 2 years ago | (#40654477)

The British government actually makes a substantial amount of money off of the Royal family, not the other way around :p

Re: worth! (5, Interesting)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#40654555)

The British government actually makes a substantial amount of money off of the Royal family, not the other way around :p

Rubbish - this is royalist propaganda based on assumptions that nobody would visit castles if there wasn't a royal family (in fact 8.5 million people visit the Louvre compared to 1.8 million visiting Windsor castle so there could be a substantial increase if it was fully open) and that all the fisheries, farms and businesses owned by the royal family would be completely unused.

Re: worth! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654659)

And of course, people visit the Louvre because it was once a royal palace, not because of all of the art exhibited there. It's not like London already has comparable venues for art so any similar use of the Palace would end up in competition with existing venues.

Re: worth! (2, Insightful)

Patch86 (1465427) | about 2 years ago | (#40654653)

Royalist hogwash. That's usually based on the fact that the "Crown Estate" brings in revenue for the government, only a smallish fraction of which is given to the Royals. But it's a fact of history that George III gave that all income and debt from the Crown Estate to Parliament in exchange for Parliament also taking over the funding of the military and civil government, which was previously funded by the monarch out of his Crown Estate income.

Seeing as the cost of civil government and the military far exceeds what the Crown Estate makes, it's nuts to say that we make money out of the Royals. That's counting the income and not counting the outgoings.

Re: worth! (0, Offtopic)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 2 years ago | (#40654509)

Say what you want about the Queen but watching this year's State Opening of Parliment, you've really got to give her some credit. I mean, how many heads of state could sit on a gold-plated throne, in a €1m hat and give a speech about austerity whilst keeping a straight face?

-- Viz

Re: worth! (2)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#40654683)

I don't think Spain's president would have any trouble doing that. He could probably do it from a tropical island surrounded by bikini babes and lighting a cigar with a 1000 Euro note.

Re: worth! (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | about 2 years ago | (#40654663)

Trolling, or cutting edge insight? I'm genuinely intrigued- what has the US government sold to British Royalty?

Re:Market economy to the rescue (2)

siddesu (698447) | about 2 years ago | (#40654419)

True, we should sell astronaut positions, not hire for them. And pray those who line up and buy them can do the job.

I'd do it for free. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654425)

I'd got through all that training and go up and risk my life for free.

Since there are plenty of others who'd do the same, then I guess that makes an astronaut's life free.

Re:I'd do it for free. (3, Insightful)

ygslash (893445) | about 2 years ago | (#40654687)

I'd got through all that training and go up and risk my life for free.

Would you do it if it were 100% certain that you would be immediately killed without accomplishing anything? I doubt it. And if you would, then you are so insane that you are worthless as an astronaut.

So it's a trade-off. How much must risk be reduced to make it possible to hire top quality astronauts? The claim of TFA is that less can be spent reducing risk.

There is already serious risk involved. So my gut feeling is that you can't reduce it much. But if NASA hasn't already done so, I agree that it would be worth spending some money to get a science-based estimate of how much risk is really tolerable.

Re:I'd do it for free. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654751)

Would you do it if it were 100% certain that you would be immediately killed without accomplishing anything?

That is nonsensical. A 100% certainty is not risk.

And if you would, then you are so insane that you are worthless as an astronaut.

You think?

God! That was the shitty piece of rhetoric I've seen in a long time here on Slashdot!

Re:I'd do it for free. (4, Interesting)

LourensV (856614) | about 2 years ago | (#40654835)

So it's a trade-off. How much must risk be reduced to make it possible to hire top quality astronauts? The claim of TFA is that less can be spent reducing risk.

I agree with Zubrin in principle: in a rational world we'd accept a reasonable amount of risk, mourn the dead if and when they perish in our quest for knowledge, and keep exploring as long as the risk remained reasonable. But of course, our world is not rational.

Back in the 1980's, NASA announced that with the Space Shuttle space travel was now perfectly safe, and to prove the point, they selected a female, good-looking, mother-of-two teacher, and invited the world to watch as they put her in the space craft and launched it. Challenger exploded and Christa McAuliffe and the other crewmembers died, with hundreds of millions watching on prime time television.

It's difficult to put a monetary value on trust, and we don't know how NASA funding would have developed without the Challenger accident, but I think it's safe to say that NASA lost a good deal more than $350 million in that event, and that the consequences were much more severe than they would have been had the astronauts died in traffic accidents. Irrational as it is, the more public a (potential) death, the bigger the risk and the more expenses are warranted. And it doesn't get much more public than an exploding space craft.

I think the only way forward for NASA is to loudly and publicly accept that space exploration is inherently dangerous, and that they were wrong in thinking that they could make it safe enough to fly school teachers. And then ask the astronauts how much risk they'd be willing to accept, and work accordingly. But in reality, I think the SLS needs to fail first, and then they'll either start from scratch and taking more risks, or leave crewed space flight to the private sector entirely. I'm not expecting too much from NASA in the coming decade.

Re:I'd do it for free. (3, Interesting)

pipatron (966506) | about 2 years ago | (#40654693)

Would you do it if there was a 100% chance of the vessel rupturing a few minutes after takeoff? Probably not, that would be suicide without any gains.

So NASA must spend some money to make sure that the mission succeeds, and that you stay alive long enough to collect useful data. Preferably to stay alive for the next mission too, because training a new guy might be more costly.

Perhaps they could state that there is an N% chance of survival, then see who's willing to go up.

Re:I'd do it for free. (1)

ultranova (717540) | about 2 years ago | (#40654837)

I'd got through all that training and go up and risk my life for free.

Since there are plenty of others who'd do the same, then I guess that makes an astronaut's life free.

A suicidal thrill-seeker is pretty much worthless as an astronaut.

Re:Market economy to the rescue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654481)

Human life is priceless!

Re:Market economy to the rescue (1)

kiddygrinder (605598) | about 2 years ago | (#40654527)

life insurance people put dollar values on life all the time.

Re:Market economy to the rescue (3, Informative)

causality (777677) | about 2 years ago | (#40654903)

life insurance people put dollar values on life all the time.

No, not exactly.

The purpose of life insurance is to replace the income that person would have received over time had they not died. It's not really the life you're insuring; they just call it that because it's collected when the insured dies. Still, it's the person's earning potential and the loss it would be to the rest of the family that is being protected.

That's why (so far as I know) it makes no sense to get a life insurance policy for children, though they sell that too. You can get a dentist to pull a perfectly good tooth too, for that matter.

Re:Market economy to the rescue (2)

ygslash (893445) | about 2 years ago | (#40654661)

Invest a higher proportion of the budget in two things:

  • More accurate risk assessment
  • Evaluating the quality of candidates, in terms of expected performance in all scenarios, when factoring in the effect of allowing candidates who tolerate higher risk

With more information, you might be able to reach equilibrium at lower total cost.

I'm skeptical about whether this would actually result in any significant cost reduction. But it's worth a try, I suppose.

Re:Market economy to the rescue (2)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#40654673)

As long as the kind of people you need keep queuing up to become astronauts, reduce costs. They are the ones whose asses are on the line, so if they're OK with it, do it.

I hope you're joking. Sure, there are people lining up to become astronauts, but if you cut the pay, there would be fewer people lining up, and a risk that you might not get The Right Stuff.

For certain positions, you don't just want someone "good enough" - you want someone who isn't limited by their training, but can push the envelope in a crisis.

That said, an astronaut's life is worth around ... two bits. They're expected to lay down their lives if needs must, and accept the risks. But their compensation should also be high, in money and (if they want it) in fame.

And that said, there aren't many astronauts anymore. But there are still cosmonauts, so there is still hope.

Re:Market economy to the rescue (2)

TheRaven64 (641858) | about 2 years ago | (#40654775)

There are a few other issues. Astronaut training is expensive. The figure I saw was about $4m. Even if the astronaut is willing to work for free and there is an inexhaustible supply of potential replacements, the cost (and time) of getting a new applicant up to standard is significant. The other factor is PR. It's really really bad publicity if the public sees astronauts die in fireballs. The USSR worked around this by only admitting to successful missions: any that failed were never publicly announced. That's a lot more difficult for NASA to do...

Re:Market economy to the rescue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654761)

As Kirk once said, "Risk.... ..... ..... ..... is our business!"

Re:Market economy to the rescue (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654867)

short sighted short term false economy if your Astronauts buy the farm before they complete their tasks in space so does the entire mission and ALL the money invested. ground staff wages, space ship, time etc.

Re:Market economy to the rescue (1)

umghhh (965931) | about 2 years ago | (#40654923)

so all the costs to ensure safe return of the ship back home is only to ensure life is not lost and not to ensure that billions invested actually achieve something instead of watching (or not depending of point of reentry) billions costing fireworks? This makes me think that excel & power point are the most dangerous tools in the world - allowing morons to produce calculations 'proving' things and then presenting them in a nice way - the common sense or services or reason are not needed to do that. Hoopla hoop and here goes anther 'scientific discovery'.

it's not just in NASA (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654331)

I recently saw a show on 'what if we were going to build hoover dam today', and while they touted all the new technology that would be used, and the safety measures that would prevent any loss of life (compared to the ~100 people who died building the dame), the estimated cost of the project grew by 10x, from around $10B in todays money to around $100B, and it would have taken an extra 10-20 years to build

so this would put the value of each person's live at ~$9B

zero tolerence of risk just doesn't work

Re:it's not just in NASA (3, Insightful)

N1AK (864906) | about 2 years ago | (#40654479)

100 lives and an extra $90 billion in cost is $0.9 billion a life. Personally I think that is still excessive but considerably less than you said.

Avoiding any loss of life isn't always practical. At the same time ignoring loss of life isn't the correct solution. We could probably have built the dam cheaper with more deaths, would $2 billion in savings be worth another 100 lives? We could also have avoided a lot of the deaths for a comparatively low cost, if we could have saved 50 lives for the equivalent of $100,000 each wouldn't it be worth it? The 100 figure also ignores the workers who likely died due to carbon monoxide (around 50).

The Burj Khalifa is a pretty impressive building and has one recorded death (there were probably two) but this doesn't cover suicide, heat exhaustion etc (equivalent to carbon monoxide poisoning at the damn I suppose) so it shows that big projects can get done without killing dozens of people.

Re:it's not just in NASA (3, Insightful)

ultranova (717540) | about 2 years ago | (#40654501)

zero tolerence of risk just doesn't work

But quoting an unnamed person making a wild guess about a specific instance and drawing an absolute, generalized conclusion to be used for life-or-death decisions apparently does.

Re:it's not just in NASA (4, Insightful)

vidarlo (134906) | about 2 years ago | (#40654577)

so this would put the value of each person's live at ~$9B zero tolerence of risk just doesn't work

As a mindset, I'm tempted to disagree. It works when used as a goal, because for every fatal accident, you will have a lot of near-fatal-accidents. Often it is trivial mistakes, and by investigating the near-accidents to find the cause, you can mitigate the risks. The norwegian oil industry has been working towards zero accidents for years, and is way safer than Gulf of Mexico. In Norway, we investigate those near-accidents to find the cause, and implement precautions to avoid it to happen again - potentially with a much more lethal outcome. I am aware this is not the same as zero risk tolerance; we are tolerating the risk, but aiming to reduce it as much as possible through targeted work.

Re:it's not just in NASA (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654617)

Not just that there's tons of technology over the years that wouldn't be possible without paying for safety gear research. You'd never have skyscrapers had Otis not invented the emergency brakes that are use in elevators.

Suggesting that it's in the billions ignores the fact that the technology often times has other uses and even when it doesn't there's something learned about the process which is valuable. I'm sure on the face of it it looks like a terribly expensive proposition, but NASA in general has generated tons of can't live without inventions over the decades.

Re:it's not just in NASA (1)

amiga3D (567632) | about 2 years ago | (#40654765)

We call it Risk Management here. You have to tolerate risk in order to get anything done, the idea is to balance risk against cost and goals.

Re:it's not just in NASA (3, Interesting)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 2 years ago | (#40654841)

Yikes. The Dutch did a similar cost / benefit calculation when planning the =http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta_Works, the system of dikes and storm gates protecting the lower lands. In this calculation, the value of a human life was set at €2.2M. The obvious solution for NASA is to hire cheaper Dutch astronauts...

Worth? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654341)

I'll give you a fiver for one.

Re:Worth? (2)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | about 2 years ago | (#40654407)

I'll give you a fiver for one.

Uh, five what, exactly?
Ostmarks (obsolete) and Zimbabwe Dollars (obsolete) are no good, Vietnamese Dong are inadequate (1/20000 US$), but if you're talking Uganda Shillings (1/2400 US$) or better, I'll take it. Can I interest you in a quantity discount - my associates in Nigeria have millions of astronaut lives to trade...

What is a driver's life worth? (3, Insightful)

judhaz (1088917) | about 2 years ago | (#40654357)

Let me be the first to come with a car analogy: What is a driver's life worth?

Re:What is a driver's life worth? (3, Informative)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#40654409)

Let me be the first to come with a car analogy: What is a driver's life worth?

That is actually a very good analogy. At the time of the Apollo space program safety features in cars were largely seen as a waste of money, by both manufacturers and consumers - people all felt that they were great drivers so it wouldn't happen to them.

Re:What is a driver's life worth? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654771)

Safety equipment in cars is actually a wash. Drivers confident in their safety equipment drive more dangerously. "Hey, it's ok, I've got an airbag!" Similarly if you're driving a car with no seat belt and no air bag, you're more cautious around those curves...

Re:What is a driver's life worth? (2)

Asic Eng (193332) | about 2 years ago | (#40654795)

Safety equipment in cars is actually a wash.

Bullshit. Accident rates and fatalities in car accidents decline all the time. I'm not even going to bother linking you to the data since there is absolutely nothing out there to support your assertion. Just google it.

Re:What is a driver's life worth? (1)

mwvdlee (775178) | about 2 years ago | (#40654413)

Within the car analogy, the answer would be: "Whatever the driver thinks his life is worth".
Since most astronauts aren't able to buy more safety themselves, this is pretty much where the analogy ends.

Re:What is a driver's life worth? (1)

azalin (67640) | about 2 years ago | (#40654473)

Weren't many safety features (like seat belts or helmets) made mandatory by law? Of course others were introduced because the buyers requested them. By the way, the same thing you mentioned, also holds true for professional drivers. They have to drive whatever their company considers the right vehicle for the job (within legal limits of course).

Oh and to be completely of topic for a second: Was your .sig written by E L James? (Sorry, could resist)

Re:What is a driver's life worth? (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#40654589)

There was a bit of a public outcry after a book was published, 'Unsafe at any Speed,' detailing all the dangers in cars of the time and the resistance of car manufacturers to improving safety. Governmental safety standards for cars followed the outcry.

risk vs cost vs achievement (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654361)

I'm pretty sure it was Burt Rutan that said, at the beginning of the X-prize, "If no-one dies in this next space race, we're not trying hard enough" It's just like road safety: we can have 0 accidents, but only with a speed limit of 0 mph, and it seems many politicians want to go in this direction to appease the "concerned mothers" segment of society. I think the solution must lie with calculated risk. let the astronauts understand the systems they will be riding, and decide for themselves whether they are willing to stake their lives on it.. only with time, and the occasional catastrophic failiure will we get the hang of what is "safe enough" Everybody dies, doing so in the pursuit of a cherished goal must be one of the better and more meaningful ways to go.

Forget NASA (4, Interesting)

acehole (174372) | about 2 years ago | (#40654369)

NASA is a shadow of its former self through no fault of its own. The political climate in the US of the last decade has been increasingly against funding things for the benefit of all. We've just ended up with an agency that has been dicking around in LEO for the better part of four decades with not that much to show for it. The russians aren't that much better for their own set of reasons.

Private companies and China are the ones who are going to make the giant strides in the coming decades. The side benefit of China progressing in space is that it might arouse some half patriotic half paranoid 'reds under your beds' movement within the US to beat them at whatever they aim for that the US hasn't done.

If after a decade, China said they were establishing a base on the moon would the US public have a renewal in the interest in progression in space or is it too far gone?

Oh FFS. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654571)

Stop defending NASA. Yes, part of it is indeed all the politicking around. No, that's not all of it. They're also a rotten organisation with far too much middle management and no clue --as an organisation-- how to get around to actually achieving anything useful, despite all the engineering smarts they had around. Feynman already made that one clear. It's been busy toying with overpriced spit-and-baling wire toys, it hasn't consolidated and hasn't made its gimmicks cheaper. Nothing of that has been fixed in the meantime. So that needs fixing too. Just as most senate- and congress critters need "fixing", badly.

Re:Forget NASA (4, Funny)

vakuona (788200) | about 2 years ago | (#40654679)

Admittedly, it would be hilarious if the Chinese went to the moon and took down the flag that the Americans left on the moon, and presented it as proof that they were on the moon. That would certainly arouse Americans' appetite for space exploration.

Re:Forget NASA (1)

JockTroll (996521) | about 2 years ago | (#40654783)

Which one of the six? Or five, since the first one was thrown to the ground by the LM's ascent engine? Or are you one of those loserboys who doesn't understand there's been more than one Moon landing? The only thing you need to prove you were on the Moon is taking some rocks, and compare them to American and Russian samples. Of course, conspiracy loonies will say "but... but... but the Soviets conspired with the US to fake the landings! And now the Americans AND Russians are conspiring with the CHINESE! We're so smart!" (fap fap fap to loony conspiracy sites). Meanwhile, we shit on their faces.

Re:Forget NASA (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about 2 years ago | (#40654819)

Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to move forward. The USA government for once is right to support the private space industry instead of throwing money at the old dinosaur. Anything NASA can do is peanuts compared to what competition will do once there is profit to be made in space. Just like with the Internet or anything else.

Two words: (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654387)

Ro Bots.

Re:Two words: (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654449)

Transformers in da skiez.

Re:Two words: (1)

osu-neko (2604) | about 2 years ago | (#40654457)

Ro Bots.

Indeed. And people are always talking about spin-offs from space exploration; improving our robotic capabilities would be an excellent thing to do.

Re:Two words: (1)

boneglorious (718907) | about 2 years ago | (#40654737)

That's a good idea, and then maybe we'd end up using these Ro Bots of which you speak so often that first it would become a commonly-used colocation, and then finally fuse into a single unit...."Robots." What a beautiful new word that will be! :D

Can't hate too much on soldiers here.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654397)

Those guys don't cost $28,000,000,000 each.

Also, possibly why we lose so many (afterthought).

Overstating his case (5, Insightful)

lbarbato (410651) | about 2 years ago | (#40654405)

This assumes NASA's #1 priority is manned spaceflight - a premise I do not accept.

From New Horizons to Cassini and Messenger, the amount of non-manned spacecraft visiting Mercury, Saturn, and Pluto to expand our knowledge of the solar system in just this decade has been extensive. (Oh yeah, and the Mars rovers - the asteroid mission, etc. etc.)

He is being a bit of a blowhard to say we've nothing to show for the money NASA has spent.

http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/messenger/main/index.html [nasa.gov]
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html [nasa.gov]
http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/ [nasa.gov]

Re:Overstating his case (2)

boneglorious (718907) | about 2 years ago | (#40654427)

Agreed; why's he so gung-ho when the main thing manned spaceflight does is get the public excited about funding...manned spaceflight. Unmanned spaceflight --- particularly as automation is just starting to get really exciting --- can deliver results at a significantly reduced cost.

Not only that (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | about 2 years ago | (#40654455)

Unmanned spaceflight is the ultimate test of everything from sensors to real time operating systems. It advances the state of the art. Putting astronauts on board could actually the pressure to produce 100% systems reliability because, hey, you can make in-flight repairs.

Re:Not only that (2)

Boghog (910236) | about 2 years ago | (#40654503)

The unattractive tradeoffs one is force to make (safety vs. accomplishments vs. costs) with manned spaceflight is very compelling argument for unmanned missions. Accomplish more at lower costs with no risk to human lives.

Re:Not only that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654647)

Yes, but you also lose the inspirational aspect of it. Not to mention the fact that we're still a very, very long way from being able to replace astronauts with robots and some of the experiments they do require an atmosphere anyways. So, you might be able to cut down on safety measures, but you wouldn't really be saving that much anyways as it's terribly expensive to redo research if things go tits up.

Re:Not only that (2)

boneglorious (718907) | about 2 years ago | (#40654733)

"we're still a very, very long way from being able to replace astronauts with robots"

Since you make that assertion, I'm interested in hearing what astronauts have done that robots couldn't have done better.

"you might be able to cut down on safety measures, but you wouldn't really be saving that much anyways"

Everything I've read suggests the opposite: that manned spaceflight is hugely more expensive that unmanned, and I've never seen any evidence that suggests that any space flights had to be redone to correct robot error. (Human error, OTOH... *cough* Hubble *cough*) I'd like to see anything you have that suggests differently. (j/k about the Hubble telescope, btw, since they waited until the first regularly scheduled servicing mission to fix it, rather than making a special trip)

Re:Not only that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654821)

Well, for one thing you try doing anything that requires dexterity via remote control and see how well that works out for you. EVAs often times involve things for which robots aren't yet capable, not to mention the fact that having a living breathing human there cuts down on potentially crucial time when things aren't going correctly. And can be asked to do things which weren't originally in the mission spec if something pops up.

Or how about the fact that humans are incredibly versatile and you don't need to put another person in space or addon for each new thing you want them to do. There's a reason why all the quality science in space has been done by folks with people up there rather than by the British that don't seem to think it's worthwhile.

Robots are great, but you have to decide what experiments you're going to do years ahead of time and build them. I don't believe the robot that was supposed to help out on the ISS has been sent up yet and that was planned many years ago.

Re:Not only that (2)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#40654703)

Putting astronauts on board could actually the pressure

And then they'd accidentally a space ship.
Not good, nooo.

Re:Overstating his case (3, Insightful)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#40654609)

Manned spaceflight isn't just a means to advance technology. It is a goal in itsself. For those of us who grew up on science fiction, manned spaceflight is the key to perhaps one day reaching the future we dream about and long for. Fiction gave us those dreams, and manned space exploration offers at least the possibility of seeing them realised in reality as well.

Re:Overstating his case (1)

boneglorious (718907) | about 2 years ago | (#40654713)

Hey, I got a physics degree because I wanted to be an astronaut, so I understand completely. And that's fine, if it's privatized. Otherwise, we have to ask, how much are your dreams worth to the entire United States?

No. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654431)

Such bad analysis...

It's not just the life of the astronaut, it's the pride of a nation, the combines life of ALL crew and machinery. You can't just multiply the costs out like that when many of those costs apply to more than one individual.

The likelihood of a single astronaut death is next to zilch. Actually it probably is zilch. The likelihood of all astronaut's dying and loss of vehicle are much greater...

Re:No. (1)

osu-neko (2604) | about 2 years ago | (#40654467)

It's not just the life of the astronaut, it's the pride of a nation...

He was probably sticking to just things that actually have value. :p

Well, "pride of a nation" does have some value, but it's more about political capital than actual capital.

volunteering (1)

Mr_Nitro (1174707) | about 2 years ago | (#40654485)

I for one would happily volunteer for any kind of missions where there would be 'reasonable' measures of safety, meaning they gave a good thought about it.. that would be ok to me, seriously. On the other side , I won't agree on doing a mission that is not pushing the boundaries of human colonization in space, or testing really extreme concept for starships, etc..of course there could be shades in between. That's it. I think this should be the attitude, you know it's a kind of job that has danger in it, you want to enroll? fine...

Re:volunteering (1)

gronofer (838299) | about 2 years ago | (#40654591)

It would be reasonable to let the would-be astronauts decide whether they are willing to accept the risk. In the event that no qualified person wants to do it, the mission obviously can't go ahead in that form.

Regarding "pushing the boundaries of human colonization in space", colonization in space is not even on the horizon at the moment.

this guy's an idiot. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654517)

Yeah, great idea. Lets make a big spectacle of something that will end in tragedy 1/4th of the time. That will show everyone the value of human life. I think this guy's just setting up nasa to have their funding cut.

Re:this guy's an idiot. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654629)

You don't get it, do you? There was this 1:25 predicted chance of the shuttle going haywire that was studiously ignored by NASA's management. What flight was it again, the 23rd that blew up? Take reciprocal, times number of crew is what sort of chance of survival? You do the math.

The space shuttle program never got out of beta, what am I saying, alpha. That's where test pilots dare. Try and keep them alive at a cost of ten figures is a waste of money. You pay them a sack of money so they can pay their life insurance; they know the risk is huge and unpredictable, and still they go there. To me, such people are nothing short of heroes. But you can't be a hero if there's no risk to die. As Rutan rightly pointed out, with that sort of pushing the envelope, if we're not killing people, we're not trying hard enough. It sounds harsh, but it's true. Because it's those lives you spend to get the program out of alpha, out of beta, and into mainstream availability. So any yokel can fly up the well for less than the cost of a new car, and expect to survive. Are we there yet? Fuck no. Pre-alpha quality. For the last, how many decades again?

Not quite right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654537)

He says if you’re going to 'give up four billion dollars to avoid a one in seven chance of killing an astronaut, you’re basically saying an astronaut’s life is worth twenty-eight billion dollars.'

If you're willing to spend $4 billion on a 1/7 chance of killing an astronaut you're saying that his life, while in taking part in a mission (and involved with a whole load of expensive equipment, and the publicity, and the effect on morale, and recruitment, and their training and a whole lot more stuff I can't even think of) is worth $28 billion.

A lot of that is probably due to budget - do NASA think that they'll continue to get funding for putting people in space if the public think those people might die?
Interestingly that concept also works in reverse if the government REALLY wants to put people in space (like when it was against the damn reds, and America had to win at all costs). The loss of a life could be used to bolster funds instead, and therefore the life could be worth negative amounts (if you were so sociopathically inclined).

All in all though the $28 billion includes a whole lot more than that guy getting hit by a bus on earth.

probability of death (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654543)

The more usual measure of safety is probability of fatality per trip. (Air craft, driving etc). It would be interesting to know the $ cost of matching the safety of driving a car. I guess its pretty high because rockets are not that safe and the hazardous environment of space and other planets.

Re:probability of death (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654655)

No, they usually do that per mile as the risk of injury or death isn't just a matter of trips, if you drive across country that might be only one trip, but you've traveled several thousand miles.

Re:probability of death (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654803)

Yeah but that would not be so useful for a rocket because the speeds are extremely high. It would make more sense per hour or per day which is easy to convert to per trip.

The only perfectly safe rocket... (2)

Kjella (173770) | about 2 years ago | (#40654557)

The only perfectly safe rocket is the one on the ground. As an astronaut you sit on top of what's practically a controlled explosion travelling thousands of miles per hour and where being slightly off course means you'll either crash and disintegrate or disappear into deep space with no hope of return. That said, I think the way SpaceX is going about it is the right way - build reliable rockets that are used for satellites and cargo, then put a human capsule in it. The #1 criteria for any human launch vehicle should be a proven track record, tighten all the tolerances a notch and increase the inspections so your manned flight isn't the one out of spec and let it fly. How should we land on other planets? The same way we've landed probes and if humans can't survive that then make a probe that lands like a human mission would.

That said, a better question is if astronauts are cost effective anymore. Yes, people are quick to point out all the things humans could do that our current robots can not but with the budget of a human mission we could build more robots and make them more complex too. I don't think many people understand exactly the constraints probes and rovers operate under, for example Spirit and Opportunity has a power budget of about 0.6 kWh/day and has been down to under 0.1 kWh/day in winter. You'd need massive insulation which means a large, unmovable structure you can't leave and a power budget orders of magnitude higher just not to freeze to death. I doubt life on Mars would be very glamorous.

Same issue with health ensurance (2)

q.kontinuum (676242) | about 2 years ago | (#40654561)

It will always for each of us be possible to increase health / reduce health risk / get better treatment by spending additional money.
You can always do some more checkup to identify a possible desease earlier, you can try to completely rely on "bio"-food. And there are probably cases where the health ensurance company has to decide if they spend millions to treat a complicated desease of a single patient or if they rather spent the millions treating hundreds of simpler cases, saving hundreds of lives.

The decisions on how valuable a single live is has to be taken in many different places.

The main problem is that discussions about the financial value of human live are not held in the open, because they are considered unethical for most people, but instead these decisions are taken in some backroom discussions where they are not supervised by the public.

Re:Same issue with health ensurance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654651)

Ensurance or insurance? There's a difference, you know.

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The initial assumptions are wrong... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654615)

The safety measures were not only to protect the life of the astronauts. They were to protect the whole project. Because if you had a major disaster, there was a strong chance that the project would be pulled. And then everyone's job was at risk...

The Russians had the same problem, and solved it is an different way - by making each launch a secret until it had been confirmed as successful. I suspect that both the Russians and the Americans valued the actual life of their Astronauts/Cosmonauts similarly - they were expensively trained, but there was no shortage of volunteers.

National pride was also involved - but I think the main driver was ensuring that the projects continued. Look at what's happened to NASA since it started having disasters - it's being wound down in favour of private enterprise.

From the gulag's mouth! (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654649)

During the heydays of Cold War, the rule chief designer Korolev set for the soviet space programme was: three successful dummy / monkey "Vostok" launches in a row, before a human (Gagarin) gets into the capsule. After he died in 1966, the the USSR leadership relaxed testing requirements for the never generation "Soyuz" capsule and that resulted in the death of Komarov (Soyuz-1) and then the three member crew of Soyuz-11. After that big disaster, the russians learned the lesson and Soyuz continues to serve safely to this day.

narrow minded people (1)

letherial (1302031) | about 2 years ago | (#40654675)

"you’re basically saying an astronaut’s life is worth twenty-eight billion dollars"

Such a simplistic way of looking at it.

What is the price that is needed to pay for human exploration? what has it always been? Blood of course; a astronauts death is tragic, but the reward for that is much bigger than any one person and astronauts are very much aware of this.I dont think that anyone one of them think, 'they spent 28 billion dollars to save me' So so shallow.

They are heros because they do something that is highly dangerous and they will really never directly benefit from it other then status and even that is hardly anything anymore, instead this country worships athletes, movie stars and singers, the more drugged out and retarded, the more news time and celebrity status, its sickening. While i am sure astronauts make good money, its not CEO money....but it should be. Romney should pay 15% taxes directly to them simply for the privilege of being in the same country, that spineless fake.

Value of the life of an astronaut? Simple. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654697)

About tree fiddy.

Oversimplified (5, Insightful)

SwashbucklingCowboy (727629) | about 2 years ago | (#40654739)

He says if you’re going to 'give up four billion dollars to avoid a one in seven chance of killing an astronaut, you’re basically saying an astronaut’s life is worth twenty-eight billion dollars.'

Only if you ignore the other costs a disaster entails, e.g. fewer candidate astronauts, less qualified candidates, a perception of the program as being a failure which could end up in reduced funding, etc.

Not Just the Astronaut (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654767)

It's not just the astronaut's life, it's also the fact that an exploding spaceship which kills an astronaut is a severe blow to the space program. So the space program is really protecting itself as much as its astronauts.

This is the wrong question (5, Insightful)

excelsior_gr (969383) | about 2 years ago | (#40654789)

If your astronauts bite the dust, so does your mission. If you start saving on safety measures and something goes wrong, it will probably mean that you will also lose the transport vehicle along with all the equipment that the astronauts were supposed to use/deploy on their mission. Killing the astronauts is merely a corollary, albeit a tragic one. If you rig everything up so that the mission can go on in case of e.g. just a life-support equipment malfunction, then you would surely be on the cheaper side if you sent an unmanned mission in the first place.

Besides, I can surely imagine that the life of an astronaut is worth a lot of money, even if we neglect the value of human life per se. The life of an astronaut on the ground is worth, I would say, as much as his education and training, which is probably the most expensive a human being can receive in our culture. The life of an astronaut in space is all that, plus every dollar spent to manufacture every bit of equipment that he/she is carrying with him/her, because if he/she dies during the mission all that will just be a pile of junk in space. To that you may also want to add the cost of the next mission that will be sent to do what the first one didn't manage. And if you are still so stubborn and choose the cheapo life-support system to save a few bucks (compared to the total cost), you will have to factor in the cost of the next mission, and the next, and the next... In the end all that matters is "we spent X billion $ to manage Y". The more missions you spend on trying, the higher X will be.

In another tone, I don't really understand why it "doesn't count" to send unmanned missions in our stead. To the people that say that "we haven't been on mars", I just reply, "I, for one, welcome our new robotic overlords".

Re: This is the wrong question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654849)

Ding ding ding! You're a winner! Tell him what he's won, Alex.

The value of an astronaut's life is the cost of the scandal it creates when 60 Minutes learns about it.

totally missing point (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#40654829)

the space program is not about putting people into space. it is about inventing amazing things that we really can use as a byproduct of putting people into space. 28 billion per astronaut or 28 billion to come up with a ton of new useful technologies, as well as to protect an astronaut as a side effect.

long term investment? (1)

knight0wl (1183645) | about 2 years ago | (#40654861)

Couldn't said costs be viewed as upfront costs of a very, very long term investment in the human race? The more we spend on astronaut safety for a small number of astronauts in the present, the cheaper it'll be in the future for a large number of astronauts and the sooner we'll be able to send large numbers of them. If we wanted to think in the long term, we'd remember that our population is growing and will continue to do so. Investing in solutions on where to put people and how to feed them now will save us a lot headaches compared to waiting until it really is a problem. (granted there are plenty of potentially habitable spaces here on the globe to explore, such as floating on/under the ocean, re-greening the deserts, or perhaps carved out of the icecaps, but eventually those spaces will run out as well).

When is an astronaut's life worth simply nothing? (0)

macraig (621737) | about 2 years ago | (#40654901)

When he's stuck here, not "earthbound" but bound to the Earth, training endlessly for missions that will never happen so long as people who AREN'T astronauts hold all the purse strings and make all the decisions.

Wrong question (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 2 years ago | (#40654927)

That's the wrong question. The correct question is: How much is the bad PR from an avoidable accident that kills an astronaut worth? Especially when you're funding comes from the public.

Query (1)

EvilElk (2664953) | about 2 years ago | (#40654935)

Not really being a troll, promise, but I don't even really understand what the question being posed is here: Military test pilots (or all military really), oil rig workers, deep sea divers, trawlermen etc etc are all paid a bit more because there is a very real chance they will die in the progress of their work. So, don't we measure this "value of human life" all the time? Why are astronauts so much more special? Is it just that they're more visible in the media? Because they are somehow, by default, treated as "heroes"? Or is the question just: "We've done enough to make it safe enough, can we stop already and send people into space some more?"
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