ASI W9900316r1.1

Moon Miners' Manifesto

#106 June 1997

Section the Artemis Data Book

Failures are the Stuff out of Which Success is Made

Failures are the Stuff out of Which Success is Made  
IN FOCUS:by Peter Kokh

At the LRS chapter meeting in Milwaukee this month (May '97), we were discussing various plans for ISDC '98 which will be held at the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee next spring. One of the special things the committee wants to do is a "poster session" entitled "Space Entrepreneurs Hall of Fame". Groups and individuals will be invited to "nominate" individuals they feel have contributed to (or to the prospects for) the commercialization of space. Some nominees are obvious, like Arthur C. Clarke, with his predication of communications satellites. The nominating group or individual will prepare a story board and short paper about the nominee (criteria and format under discussion) as an entry in ISDC 98's "SEHOF". We'd want the display items to be sufficiently durable so that SEHOF could be a traveling, and growing exhibit available to future ISDC's.

During the discussion, one chapter member objected that there are no space entrepreneurs yet, especially if you add the qualifier "profit-making". "So far," he said, "there have only been grandiose plans and lots of failures." We think that's a very narrow view, and also implies an unnecessarily restricted view of what kind of enterprise can be called "space related". Be that as it may, a more important point has been brought up: the tendency to disvalue and dismiss failure.

Someone (I do not recall who) has said, aptly, "show me the man who has never failed, and I'll show you a man who has never tried." Many persons in fact justify "not trying" by fear of failure. Indeed, in any envelop-expanding groundbreaking effort, the probabilities of failure are demonstrably greater than those of success. This has not stopped the scientific process nor the inventive tinkering which has led to the tremendous, ever quickening, and ongoing crescendo of technological culture tracing back to the discover of sticks, stones, and fire.

When someone succeeds brilliantly, he or she might make a gesture of humility by pointing to the "shoulders of others" on which he or she stood. But it is not only the wave crest of past successes we ride, it is also the much deeper tide of past failures. For failures help define the limits of the possible, whether technological, financial, cultural, or political &emdash; and by doing so, reduce the odds of success against the next brave spirit to rise to the challenge. Past failures help define and illuminate the route that eventually leads to success. Because of this humble but vital service performed by all those who try but fail, no one should be ashamed of having not achieved a "goal". It may take some humility, but in that case, it is the humble who enable final glory.

This is so not only of those who invent new doodads or processes, but also of those who "brainstorm" in general. Attempting "to creatively foresee" future pathways is just as risky an endeavor as attempting to pioneer them. But if one's error, however wide of the mark, is the triggering occasion of another's finding a better way, then the service of that error is a happy one. As the Christian liturgy says of Adam's "sin", "Oh happy fault" (because it created the need for a savior and redemption).

Thus in western culture there is a long tradition of recognizing the service of those who have failed and yet contributed all the same &emdash; often precisely because they have failed, or because of how they have done so. That we classify our bunglings as "learning experiences" testifies, in self-deprecating humor, to this positive value, To succeed means to have risked failure and won.

In his classic "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress", Robert A. Heinlein coined the epithet "tanstaafl", actually an acronym of "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch." Tanstaafl applies to success as to anything else that is desirable. In the end, we have to pay for it. And the coin is not only hard work and careful research and preparation and talent honing etc. The coin is frequently prior failures.

Putting in place the various paving blocks of the road to space is no different from any other endeavor. But in that the task is very complex, inter-involved, and largely beyond currently pedestrian technology, we can expect the failure to success ratio to be higher than most other avenues of endeavor.

Elements required have to be tackled in the order of "prerequisites" - they have to be terraced. We can't expect to create an all new space-based solar power satellite energy system before we have enhanced present energy systems with power relay satellites, creating a world energy grid. And so on.

Getting us into space, commercially, is a cat-lived pursuit - many failures already to our credit as dues paid. Otrag, Amrock, Connestoga, the list goes on and on. But with each failure we learn and success becomes that much less improbable for those with enough optimism to pick up the pieces and follow.

Organizations too, have had a moment in the Sun, only to "fail": L5 (which has an afterlife of sorts in NSS), LDC (Lunar Development Council), LBO (Lady Base One), etc. This record must not discourage us.

That we persist, we who would have the stars, despite all these battle failures, is testimony to our credentials - we have the right stuff. We know how to turn failure into success. We will win the war. <PK>

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