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Mon, Jul 21, 2014

Author Says Irrational Risk Aversion Holding Back U.S. Human Spaceflight

Conclusion: Too Few People Are Dying In Space

On the 45th anniversary of the first flight to land humans on the moon, a new book gives one author's view as to why we haven't been back there or anywhere beyond earth orbit in over four decades, and why we are dependent on Russia for access to what he calls "our own space station."

It would seem to be a counter-intuitive argument, but he says that safety is taking precedence over actually flying in space, and the government is in no hurry to risk human lives in space. And while he says he is not advocating killing people in space, the aversion to risk is standing in the way of a return to manned spaceflight from U.S. soil.

"Since the end of Apollo, space hasn't been considered important enough to risk human life," says Rand Simberg, author of the new book, Safe Is Not An Option: Overcoming The Futile Obsession With Getting Everyone Back Alive That Is Killing Our Expansion Into Space. "The House recently passed a NASA authorization bill that said 'safety is the highest priority.' That means that everything else, including actual spaceflight, is a lower one. We're apparently willing to spend billions on it, but that's for jobs, not actual progress in space.

"Despite the fact that, to get our astronauts to ISS, we have to send millions of taxpayer dollars to Russia, which continues to act against our national interests, there seems to be no hurry to end our dependence on them. It's apparently more important to Congress to not possibly lose an astronaut than to regain control of our own space destiny. Congress underfunds Commercial Crew and insists that NASA continue to develop it the old, expensive slow way that killed fourteen astronauts anyway, in the name of 'safety.'"

He points out that had we taken this safety obsession as seriously in the 1960s, we wouldn't have sent astronauts around the moon in 1968, when we won the space race, let alone landing them in 1969. "Buzz and Neil thought they had maybe a 50-50 chance of success, but they went, because it was important," Simberg says. "If I were an astronaut today, I'd be outraged at Congress, that thinks I don't have 'the right stuff' to support my country in space, or that what I'm doing is so trivial it's not worth the risk."

The book notes that space is the harshest frontier that humanity has ever faced in its history, and it is unrealistic to think that it will be opened for development and settlement without the loss of human life, any more than any previous one was. Simberg elaborates, "I'm not saying that we should be trying to kill people in space, or be reckless, any more than I like to see people die on the highways. But the only way to not have people die in space is to not send them. We should be doing so much there that deaths are just as inevitable as they are in any other human endeavor."

(Images from file)

FMI: www.safeisnotanoption.com

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