Space is hard — and that’s okay

When something does not go quite right for anything to do with topic of space the common phrase that comes up is, “Space is hard.”

How hard is it? Listening to a talk by Captain Scott Kelly I heard him offer a statistic that gave me a new appreciation for the term. Out of 135 Shuttle missions there were 2 losses giving a 1 in 67 odds that you were not going to be returning safely to Earth again. Commander Kelly compared that to the D-Day invasion during World War II. Using the somewhat accepted number of 2,500 killed (4,413 is a number that seems more accurate) against the 156,000 troops the Allies landed that means 1 in 62 did not make it home to their families from that operation alone. (If you use the higher number it would be something closer to 1 in 35) Thus the bravery of space comes somewhat close to matching the horror of war — at least for the shuttle program and the D-Day invasion.

Yes, they are selected statistics and not very meaningful for comparison other than the willingness of risk, in the name of stopping further human tragedy, against the willingness of risk to further human ability. Which one would you be more willing to sign up for? Yet, which one is most supported by government action?

Stuart O. Witt, the Chief Executive Officer Mojave Air and Spaceport, talked about the unique opportunity that was reignited there. I wish I could remember his exact words but he emphasized at Mojave you have a place where you have “permission to fail.” In the case of pushing the envelope in space exploration that also means the permission to possibly get killed in process as Virgin Galactic was so unfortunate to have happen.

Permission to fail does not equate to permission to take stupid risks. It does, however, mean failure is part of the process of forging a better world ahead for all of humanity. After all, there is that joke about what is the best way to ensure you don’t die of cancer? Answer: Become a mouse. This is not to say experimentation on humans should be a free-for-all, but the pendulum has gone so far as to make it hard to be able to be in control of your own life anymore within the United States. Just as I am writing these words I saw another Medium story about legalizing innovation and the rather interesting one man’s quest to hack his own genes.

The mindset of safety above all in the modern world may have created a culture of fear in many that is big enough to avoid life. To quote a recent Survivor contestant:

“Don’t let your fear of death morph into a fear of life” (Edited slightly) — @RealDaveWright

Whether your dream is to be an astronaut or just go beyond the limits of whatever your day to day life is failure has to be part of the process. As Peter Diamandis said in his blog about reinventing how we teach our kids, “Tolerating failure is a difficult lesson to learn and a difficult lesson to teach. But it is critically important to succeeding in life.” Failure is not something that should be avoided at all costs because it is failure that ultimately makes things better for either ourselves or future generations. Maybe the risk of your life is one you are not willing to take, however — as Dave Wright is quoted above, don’t confuse that with the real risk of having no life at all.

(Originally posted on Medium)