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Ed Driscoll

Interview: Rand Simberg Explains Why Safe Is Not An Option

June 5th, 2014 - 7:09 pm


Rand Simberg, frequent contributor to PJ and a former project manager at Rockwell International Corporation, stops by today to discuss his recent book, Safe Is Not An Option: Overcoming The Futile Obsession With Getting Everyone Back Alive That Is Killing Our Expansion Into Space.

As Rand explains, the culture of NASA is much more sclerotic than its 1960s-vintage “Right Stuff” era, in which the feats that put Man on the Moon in the space of a decade could never be repeated today. These days, as Rand notes, instead of treating astronauts like the military test pilots being assigned to orbit the earth, NASA considers them as being akin to “national treasures,” as science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle once wrote.

Will commercial manned spaceflight pick up where NASA has left off? In contrast to moribund NASA, Simberg describes commercial spaceflight as “fairly vibrant.” And considering the saber rattling going on from Russia, who are threatening to cut off access to the International Space Station via their ancient Soyuz rockets, that’s a good thing.

In the meantime, as Rand notes at his book’s Website, “Safety Cannot Be The Highest Priority In NASA Spaceflight,” if you agree, visit his site and sign his petition “to send Congress a message and try to fix the NASA authorization bill.”

But first, check out our 11 minute interview, during which Rand will discuss:

● His forecast for the next decade of human spaceflight, from both the private and government sectors.

● The final post-mortem on the now-retired Space Shuttle.

● Is NASA making a mistake with its proposed successor?

● When did NASA win the Space Race? (Hint, it wasn’t Apollo 11.)

● Do today’s NASA staffers see the agency as being superior to current private space efforts?

● What’s going on with Michael Mann’s lawsuit against him?

● How will the public and U.S. government react when the first person is killed during a commercial spaceflight?

And much more. Click here to listen:

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(11 minutes, 21 seconds long; 10.4 MB file size. Want to download instead of streaming? Right click here to download this interview to your hard drive. Or right click here to download the 3.25 MB lo-fi edition.)

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Transcript of our interview begins on the following page; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.

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All Comments   (4)
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I’ve been in the space launch business for over 35 years now. And I note something interesting about manned flight safety.

In the earliest days, we launched men on terribly unreliable ballistic missiles, Redstone, Atlas and Titan. And we lost no one, and had no real mission failures, although there were a few missions that did not quite achieve everything desired.

Then we entered the era of designed-from-the-ground-up “man-rated” launch vehicles. And then we started killing people. The Apollo 1 fire, the three launch pad workers who died at the flight readiness firing of the Space Shuttle Columbia, and then the Challenger and Columbia crews.

It appears that man-rated vehicles are the deadliest.

It was not that NASA became more risk-averse. It was that the focus of the risk of concern became other than saving lives. Maintaining schedule and keeping funding flowing – and therefore keeping people employed, became the focus. That was the basic idea behind the Space Shuttle program: save the manned space program by shutting everything else down.

Now, of course, NASA is very risk-averse to manned flights - but it is because they fear that the loss of funding, and jobs, as a result.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, yes, but, um, y'know, I *hear* you, and yet, maybe, this is not quite on target. Look at the profession of test pilot. In days gone by some brave pilot had to be the first to step into some bleeding edge jet that might not work at all like it was hoped. Many pilots were lost, many aircraft were lost. Today the whole dynamic is different because of our digital friends the computers. We design a *whole* lot better in the first place, and this is not widely appreciated. And we can test a lot better as well, in cyberspace. We really don't *have* to lose people today as we did fifty years ago. And we don't *want* to lose the hardware, either, because it's freakin' expensive and maybe the private efforts are more sensitive to *that*! So, yes, as Simberg says, but things really are more than a bit different now, and it's not really just increased and inappropriate sensitivities, we more or less get to throw those in free.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
The final question regarding fatalities in commercial space would have an insurance component. For a long time, I've been concerned that insurance regulators (either with or without government prodding) would be the ones to make commercial space flight untenable by American companies.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
Please fix: "If the above Flash audio player is not BE compatible..."

Nitty-picky, I know - but it's a simple change to the template for your "Flash audio" pages, people.
38 weeks ago
38 weeks ago Link To Comment
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