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Re^4: "Practices and Principles" to deathby ack (Deacon)
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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