(I’m going to offer you a “trigger warning” something all in vogue with the leftist side of our nation… I’m going to be talking about a lot of things here, some of them military in nature. When I do that my Sailor comes out. He curses. If you are afraid that cursing will somehow damage your ID, the time to flee is now.)
In July of ’08 a young Ensign while standing OOD for the Sea and Anchor detail on a destroyer put her up on a sand bar. He was court-martialed, and received a reprimand, and then was shit canned (that means tossed in the garbage). If this had been 2008 that would be the end of the story, he would have been out of the Navy, and looking for work with a black mark on his record that would never go away. Fortunately for the free world, it was 1908. The young ensign was shit canned to submarines, where he became the foremost expert in submarine design in the US Navy. Then he went off to do other things… you may have even heard of him, His name was Chester W Nimitz. YES that Nimitz.
In 1967 three guys named Grissom, White, and Chaffee where testing a piece of equipment, and it failed. It failed so catastrophically that they found gouges where gloved hands had tried to dig through the titanium door that separated these three men from freedom. Freedom from a temperature of a thousand degrees or so. This was the space craft that would be called (retroactively) Apollo 1. Approximately two years later, Armstrong took that small step.
In 1986 Challenger blew up seconds after take-off. In 2003 we lost Colombia, during final approach. In 2011 we retired the shuttles. Fortunately private industry is working on manned space flight, and we should see private manned launch within the next two years. Yes, I know NASA is working on building a new man rated vehicle too. The trouble is, NASA funding is at the mercy of congress and the President, and as a retired Sailor, I can tell you that a lot of stuff that we spent millions on and got as far as prototypes got killed because they were just too expensive, or not politically protected, while a lot of stuff that is or was CRAP got bought, or built because the work was in the right senator’s district. Until that thing is setting on the pad with guys inside, I’m not going to count on it, and even then it could get killed. Remember there was supposed to be an Apollo 18 – 20. (thank you Sen. Proxmire, may you rot and burn in hell)
Here in the shipyard where I work, the guys with the wrenches have a saying… “there’s safety in shacks” (meaning the portable offices we work out of). Loosely translated, If you don’t leave your office, you’re not going to get hurt, but of course you’re not going to get anything done…
But the point of this whole thing, is that we have become massively risk adverse. The military for instance (and not the only instance by any means) has become a Zero Defect platform… Meaning, screw up once, you’re done. Think what that would have meant for the US Navy during WWII. Think what it would have done for heavier than air flight, or manned space flight. Frankly think what it could still mean for the chances of getting off this rock.
Now, I’m no stranger to risk, and I understand the dangers of taking risks. I’ve experienced flooding from a three inch hole at a depth of greater than 800 feet, (that’s how deep we’re allowed to admit we go), I’ve heard shots fired at me in anger, and I’ve stared down the barrel of my service weapon at a guy with a butcher knife, and another time at a kid with a pistol, trying to convince them that they wanted to drop it so I wouldn’t have to shoot them. I’ve also done other things I’ll maybe be allowed to talk about in another twenty years in the highly unlikely event I’m around that long. I currently repair nuclear submarines for a living, which includes making sure that they come back up after going down in the most unforgiving environment yet experienced by man, while the Ghosts of the Thresher and the Scorpion (as well as the Kursk, and all the other non US subs lost at sea) stare over my shoulder, reminding me what happens if we screw this up.
And yet, if we could get Chaffee and the boys back to talk with us, and by “the boys” I mean all the men and women that have lost their lives furthering human knowledge, or defending their country, through some magical means, and asked them two questions 1) would you do it again?, and 2) should your loss be a warning to us to stop? I feel more than certain the answer would be Hell yes, and hell no respectively.
Taking risks is a necessary part of life. This is true whether you’re working on a ship, writing a book (or reading books) or controlling the scientific exploration of space. We need to get over this zero defect, no risk, “oh my Gods, what if someone got hurt” philosophy or we’re doomed to the dust bin of history.
As R. A. Heinlein put it: “Certainly the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you; if you don’t bet you can’t win.”
Take a Chance.