Sunday, July 02, 2006

Risk and space travel

This article points out soemthing important about space travel and risk management that is important to consider. I would recommend reading it.

Here is a copied part debate I had a few years ago on a space forum that I post on sometimes. It seems very relevant to the issue:

Me, responding to a post about generating more and more fail-safes.

Backups cost money. There must be a balance between safety and cost
effectiveness, or it won't be reasonable to do. Take the shuttle for
example...theoretically, you could make it 100% safe, but only after spending
infinite money and attention on every aspect. But we can't operate a space
program that way, so their has to be a trade-off. Somewhere, somehow, somone has
to make a decision about what constitutes an acceptable risk. Personally, I
think that should be made by the people who want to ride the thing.

Between money and lives, I'll choose lives every time. No cost is too high to
ensure absolute safety.

A nice ideal, I guess. I am biased towards the life end. But if you take it
absolutely, then you would have been opposed to exploring the world in sailing
ships, lighting fire, driving cars, laying railroads, mining, in short, every
activity involving a potentially harmful result.

At this point in time, we have the technology to make it safe. It just cost too
much, so we cut back. But on a permanent base, i think no expense should be

I would agree with ASEI here, there must inevitably be some sort of trade off.
You could spend an infinate amount of time/money making everything safe, but it
can only be achieved at the expense of progress. This is why the great pioneers
of the past are still famous and admired today, they accepted that there was
only a certain level of precautions that could reasonably be taken - and they
took the risk. What we learnt from them allowed the journey to be safer next
time. This is what pioneers are. You obviously have to make things as safe as
you reasonably can, but for many the risks make it worth doing. As for a
permanent base, it is difficult to comment, as everyone would agree that we do
not have the fail safe technology to even attempt this right now. When we start
putting the general population up there then there can be no 'accidents' and
until we have fail safe technology it may be necessary to have a backup - or at
least a way out available should it be needed.

Another post of mine about space settlement or commercialization of a human presence in space:
I think if space is ever to be settled or commercialized that there needs
to be a cultural attitude of risk-taking. It doesn't necessarily mean that we
shouldn't value life. What it does mean is that people will need to be willing
to take personal risks, and accept the results of those risks. If a man gets on
a rocket, the attitude needs to be that he knows and accepts the risks of space
travel. If afterwards, the rocket explodes and he dies, the blame cannot lie
with the company that built it, they did their best to the greatest degree
reasonable in serving the interests of their customer. Currently, any risk is
deemed unacceptable. When risks are taken by people, the responsibility never
rests squarely on them. Through our legal system, revenge is usually taken on
the companies which enable the risk rather than the people who take it. The
result is that it becomes far too risky for anyone to provide any product or
service to which there is the slightest degree of risk to the consumer (at
least, at any price that is reasonable and viable).


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