Rand Simberg: NASA’s mission is not safety

Rand Simberg has an article on USA Today. This week is the anniversary of the three worst accidents in NASA’s history: the Apollo 1 fire, the Challenger explosion, and the Columbia break-up. Space is still a very dangerous place, and getting there is risky. His comments (but read the whole thing):

But should safety be NASA’s highest priority? If it is, then that means other things, such as actually accomplishing things in space, are a lower one. The surest way to make sure our astronauts don’t die in space is to keep them on the ground. And indeed, that is more and more what we do, choosing robotic exploration over opening the frontier to humanity.

The obsession with safety is sincere, if unspoken, testimony to just how unimportant we consider the opening of that final and harshest of frontiers. The last time space was important was when we were racing the Soviets to the moon more than four decades ago. Now, we no longer consider it worth the risk. Had we taken such an attitude in Panama, no one would have turned the first shovel of dirt.

As NASA has dithered, private investors who understand the true scope of opportunity in space as well as the dangers are stepping up by investing in new ships, technologies and commercial ventures.

This sad week, perhaps the best way to honor the men and women who gave their lives would be to recognize that they did so willingly, and set forth a bold national frontier-opening policy, including recognizing that it has never happened without human bloodshed. As John Shedd wrote last century, “A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are for.”

via NASA’s mission is not safety: USA Today.

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