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Re^3: "Practices and Principles" to death

by zentara (Archbishop)
on Feb 29, 2008 at 17:01 UTC ( #671224=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to Re^2: "Practices and Principles" to death
in thread "Practices and Principles" to death

I grew up in Detroit, and the big problem back then was "how much money do you put into highway safety". Did you know that with enough money, you can make a 99.99% safe highway? But would they spend it? bad publicity be damned. What it ultimately came down to, was the cost of an human life. They could compute all the losses due to insurance companies paying out death and accident costs, and it was cheaper than making the highways safer. Same with the Pinto gas tank. Remember them exploding? But it was cheaper to payoff all the people sueing, rather than fix the problem.

So nowadays it comes down to what the value of a human life is, or for that matter, the value of a corporation. Nowadays, it's quite common for a corporation that gets huge bad publicity, to declare bankruptcy, and reform under another name.

Since this touched on Sattellites, and space, the issue is definitely on the table....... what is the value of an astronaut's life?

I'm not really a human, but I play one on earth. Cogito ergo sum a bum
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Re^4: "Practices and Principles" to death
by ack (Deacon) on Mar 01, 2008 at 04:10 UTC

    An interesting question. I spent about 5 years as a Chief Systems Engineer at NASA in the early 80's...starting about 6 months before the second flight of the space shuttle...and ending when I transfered to Albuquerque, NM, with my wife (who had just finished medical school and was enter her residency) about a year after the Challenger disaster.

    NASA was wrestling with that exact question: what is the cost of an astronaut's life. They concluded that if the Space Shuttle was to ever become the '18-wheeler of space' then they needed to get past the historic view of 'preserve astronaut life at all costs'...which had been the mantra of all of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights.

    So they boldly concluded that it was inevitable that astronauts would be lost (I still remember, vividly, a big meeting where we told almost those exact words)...they argued that the public expected and needed (with respect to the possible loss of astronauts' lives) us to 'get past it.'

    So they embarked on a course (which I wrestled with almost every day in my job) that we had to focus on 'minimal testing', 'production mentailitly', etc.

    So we did...and costs began to go way down and we were turning Shuttle flights at an effective rate of about 10 per year (compared to the roughly 0.75 per year of the first few Shuttle flights).

    And then came Challenger. The public pretty much crucified NASA...and, in my opinion, NASA has never recovered.

    We all learned that the value of astronauts' lives was not at all related to any insurance computations or other 'typical' cost estimating strategies.

    It looked to me like it was the cost of an entire many-billions-of-dollars Agency's reputation and ability to gather and consilate funds to continue their service to the taxpayers. I would argue that the cost of an astronaut's life is almost inconceivable.

    ack Albuquerque, NM
      And then came Challenger. The public pretty much crucified NASA...and, in my opinion, NASA has never recovered.

      I never considered NASA responsible for Challenger. IIRC, the White House pressured NASA to make the launch for publicity reasons, otherwise they would have delayed for temperature reasons. And that brings up the "real" testing issue in this case..... how well did Morton-Thiokol test those O-rings for low temperature safety, and was it documented in a chart showing the failure-vs-temperature probability. From what I recall, they just relied on some engineer issuing a politically pressured guess. (Of course Morton-Thiokol might just have been a scapegoat, being small enough to blame without too much adverse corporate disrepute).

      Everyone gets alot of "patriotic confusion" over the space race, and the blame game gets very distorted, since they feel failures are a reflection of God's love/hate for our country. As a matter of fact, I had a woman blame me personally for the Challenger disaster, because the night before at dinner, I was discussing whether it was even ethical to blast rockets into space. She claimed I psychically caused it by bad thoughts. Unbelievable!

      And then there is the Columbia's reentry burnup.... that one that burned up over Texas. Are you telling me that they didn't have a contingency plan? They just crossed their fingers and prayed it would make it.... well it didn't. They devalued those astronaut's lifes. After that, they made a contingency plan to assuage public uproar.

      Now to inject my own psycho-babble blame for those 2 disasters......they both occurred under Republican administrations....Reagan and Bush Jr., who made it a point to curtail non-military spending.

      Anyways, I don't want to bash NASA in this thread about software testing, because those were hardware and political failures.

      The biggest most unbelievable software blunder in space, related to poor testing, was that infamous "metric-vs-english" value for the gravitational constant which destroyed that Mar's probe a few years ago. Now that was negligence! Are you telling me, that their simulations didn't detect that gross error? A complete failure of proper software testing.

      I'm not really a human, but I play one on earth. Cogito ergo sum a bum

        Competing blunder: the float-to-16bit-signed-integer-conversion bug which caused the destruction of Ariane 5 in 1996: alas, the resulting number was higher than 2**15, so the steering system collapsed and transfered control to the secondary system which ran into the same bug...

        some facts:

        • the bug was triggered 36.7 seconds after start
        • it was Ariane 4 software, but Ariane 5 was faster
        • the software containing the bug wasn't used at all in the flight, it was only used at countdown. To enable a fast reset the software was scheduled to be active for 40 seconds after start
        • primary and backup computer systems had identical software
        • the casting hasn't been harnessed, because nobody thought an overflow was possible
Re^4: "Practices and Principles" to death
by Your Mother (Chancellor) on Feb 29, 2008 at 21:14 UTC
    …you can make a 99.99% safe highway?

    You could make all roads 99.9% safe for free (well, for those cost of a little legislation). Institute a 25mph/40kph maximum speed limit. You just saved 40,000 lives in the US alone! And herein lies the real problem and what dragonchild is talking about. For those 40,000 lives you will pay uncountable billions, eventually trillions, in lost time, work hours, unused infrastructure, higher gasoline consumption, more pollution, fewer jobs, less agriculture, etc, etc. Everyone will suffer -- not just the unlucky, or the unseatbelted, drunk, or over-tired who got what they asked for -- quite a bit in this particular case, and it seems likely that more people would die in the long run from the staggering losses to mobility and the economy than would ever die in car wrecks.

Re^4: "Practices and Principles" to death
by amarquis (Curate) on Feb 29, 2008 at 17:22 UTC

    I feel I must note that I'm not saying everyone should evaluate things like a business robot. If human safety is a factor in one's project, I certainly would hope that they'd be thinking beyond insurance and legal costs.

      I know what you mean, but they don't. It's part of that old wall you hit when you get out of school and are employed in the real world, and realize that everything is a comprimise, and that human life is valued very cheaply. Wanna talk about the poor smuck who has to change the toner cartridge in the laser printer? His/her life has been devalued by corporations in the interest of cheap printing for everyone...... it starts to get me thinking of Jesus and being selected to "hang on the cross" for everyone else's party. I'm gonna write a novel about it. :-)

      I'm not really a human, but I play one on earth. Cogito ergo sum a bum

        I used to work at a publishing services company. I personally may have printed thousands of pages. Behind and above my monitor was a partition with a large black spot on it the size of a car tire. At first I thought that it had been subjected to heat, that the spot was charred. I found out later that there had been a printer there, puffing out invisible clouds of (carcinogenic) toner at the wall.

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