ASI W9900392r1.0

Moon Miners' Manifesto

#110 November 1997

Section the Artemis Data Book

IN FOCUS: Mir, and the Crucial Gut-Battle Over Risk, Editorial

byPeter Kokh

Recently, in the Halls of Congress as in the Nation's Press, we witnessed quite a display of melodramatic hand wringing. "Should we or should we not cancel the next Shuttle to Mir mission? Should we, or should we not, put our astronaut "in harm's way" [will someone please come up with a less hackneyed expression? this one has to be the all time doozey!] aboard that rattletrap Mir?"

The worrying, say some, was genuine. On the contrary, it was some of the most transparent "save-my-own-butt" political cowardice we've seen on display in some time. Congresscritters (we hate the word, but here it seems appropriate] didn't want to have to answer to the public if things went badly wrong on Mir while the next U.S. astronaut was aboard. Add in the fact that some of them have never quite gotten used to the idea of cooperating with the Russians, and you have the makings of a shameless public display. What ever happened to leadership?

It can, of course, be argued that different personalities and temperaments will see the same situation differently, that the worry warts had only the best of intentions. Okay, but only if you qualify that - "gutless good intentions".

Naming names is not our game. Courageous good sense won the day in the end. The Shuttle flew and the astronaut transfer was made. Yet it is absolutely crucial which "side" won this battle. Why?

The ongoing drama of Mir - accidents, breakdowns, loss of attitude control, loss of solar power, loss of the computers - and the ever just-in-time rescue and correction, was, for those of us "on the right side", an envelope-expanding epic of the saga of man in space, a saga with one theme: man can do, man belongs here, man is showing he can cope with this alien frontier.

Expansion of the envelope? Yes! of tolerable safety margins, of can-do recoveries, of yolk-sac autonomy. More importantly, at stake was (is) the expansion of public expectations and confidence in the international manned space programs. And most importantly, at stake was (is) the politically acceptable reduction of the prohibitive cost of "zero risk tolerance". We don't have to spend mega bucks to assure against disaster. The best assurance is the resourcefulness of the human brain. That's free!

No-risk assurance by expensive redundant systems can only go so far. There's no excuse for not heeding the law of diminishing returns. One can never assure 100% against failure or danger or disaster. Some measures make sense because they are relatively inexpensive. Beyond that, we need to look at cost/benefit ratios to find the right balance between foolhardiness and the contraceptively expensive assuaging of all the nervous Nellies.

Somewhere along the way we absolutely must tell those who would stay at home, regardless, that it's none of their business, that it is a question for those of us who would go to answer. And as always throughout human history, those who would pioneer are never reluctant to accept a certain level of real risk.

Space, as a public project, inevitably means that those who have no intention at all of going are calling all the shots.
The trouble is, making the opening of space a government project, makes it a public project, one in which those who have no intention at all of going are calling all the shots. That's absurd, and we don't care how loudly or how often the seeming majority of space supporters out there chants its self-defeating mantra: "only the government can open space - it's too expensive for private enterprise" - to which we chant just as loudly "space is expensive because the government is doing it! Free enterprise won't / can't do it, if it has to do it on the government's terms!"

Only a free people, not Americans or any others, but those willing to forsake they homeland when the time comes to pioneer new "for keeps" communities beyond Earth, only they can find an affordable way, at self-acceptable risk. Pioneers have never been shy of risk. The chance to defy risk, to laugh at it and win, is what drives them!

Unfortunately, many space enthusiasts are mired in the trap, and see no way out. Individually and collectively, we put all our eggs in the basket of public space, accepting the price-fixing standards of acceptable risk of the "who? not me!" public at large.

What kind of nonsense is this? If a person wants something, he absolutely owes it to himself to take responsibility for the realization of that dream. To do less is to be a fake. To abdicate that responsibility to a public authority that does not share the dream is absurd and futile. All the political action in the world, all the public consciousness raising, none of this activism up-against-the-grain can win us the realization of our vision, no matter how much those who relish political action tell us otherwise.

We have said before that the real Challenger "Disaster" was not the tragic explosion itself, but the mass/ media/politico hysteria conclusion jump. We are faced with the acceptance of "Metarisk" - If the ultimate "go"/"no go" decision is left to the political process, then the risk of an irrevocable "NO" is accepted. No pioneer, would-be-pioneer, or pioneer ancestor can accept such a risk. If You feel you must, then you should be honest enough to admit that getting us into space to stay, is not a responsibility you have accepted absolutely, that you have assigned it, that it is not your priority one.

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