Why Should Space Exploration Be Safe?

In the last week, I have heard many commentators worrying about the safety of manned space exploration.  Daniel Shore, of NPR fame, has twice pointed out that only three astronauts were ever lost during Apollo and now 14 have been lost to the shuttle.

Why should space exploration be safe? 

We aren’t at the point where John Doe, tourist, can fly into space (unless John Doe has $20 million to give to the Russians, of course).  Space is not a routine destination.

The Apollo program included a couple dozen missions, many unmanned.  We lost three crew in that program.  Mercury before it flew six missions.  Many test pilots were lost in the cold-war aviation/space race prior to those missions.  How many naval explorers died in the sea in the centuries prior?

The Shuttle has flown 113 missions.  Two have been lost, leading to the 14 deaths.  Why does this sound less safe than Apollo?

We are right to question whether cost cutting has affected NASA’s programs.  But not in the search for blame.  Space flight is a noble, human mission.  We need to explore space, near and far, and develop technologies to make it more common and extend farther. 

Someday, in the not too distant future, we’re going to exhaust the resources of this little green and blue rock we call home.  Where do we go then?  If not to space, then we falter and die out as a species.

Cost cutting has gutted the true mission of NASA – to take us to the stars, new worlds, new homes.  Safety may have been impacted somewhat, but exploration, discovery, experiment, and adventure are dangerous endeavors.

We can put our technology in space to do many things.  But humans will have to go along on some of these trips if we are ever to break the constraints of our little, isolated world.

More money, less safety, more discovery. 

Let’s put humans on Mars, Io, Europa, and beyond.  Let’s start mining the Moon and the Asteroid Belt.  Let me orbit the Earth from miles above in my lifetime.  Take some of that $400 billion defense budget and do something visionary, something that takes us beyond our petty squabbles here on Earth.

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