Sunday, March 27, 2011

Risk is our business....that's what the starship is all about.

A friend sent me this little video clip.  Captain Kirk preaching about taking chances with exploration.  This is from the episode "Return to Tomorrow" which aired on February 9, 1968, which is very fitting for what was going on at that time.  NASA was a few months away from taking a huge risk (like Kirk mentions) and launching Apollo 8 to the moon.  This was the first time a Saturn V had been flown with a crew on board, and rather than playing it safe and doing a test flight in orbit, they flew all the way to the moon.  This was only the second flight of the Apollo spacecraft after Apollo 7 just a few months earlier.   Anyway, we know that whole story.  Risk!
Back in the 60s, most people had a good idea of what was going on with the space race with the Russians.   Kids sitting in front of TVs watching the space flights while rolling their Food Sticks up in little balls before eating them, spilling orange Tang down the front of their pajamas, and building cardboard LM models that were obtained from Gulf gas stations when dad filled his gas tank in the family car.  Oh, I think I just described myself when I was 5 years old!
Dangerous times for the few brave test pilot/astronauts flying that stuff.  They could have easily been killed or blown to tiny bits before they could even say "Uh oh..."  Risk!
John Young, and Bob Crippen flew Columbia manned on it's very first flight.  They had ejection seats, but they would only be good for a few seconds after launch. Risk!
Now here we are, just a few months from the end of the shuttle with two flights left. The last mission had a once in a lifetime chance to take a photo of the entire ISS complex with all ships parked.  Risk!  Don't fly the Soyuz around for the ultimate photo, something could happen and the Soyuz would have to return to Earth.  Unlikely, but the Russians thought the risk was too high to take a chance.
After Columbia's destruction, the risk was too high to do a final Hubble mission.  Astronauts were all willing to risk their lives and volunteer to fly the mission anyway.  Finally, it was approved, but with a backup shuttle ready to fly since the risk factor was so high.   
After this summer, shuttles will be done, assigned to museums, and a lot of risk will be eliminated.  Constellation canceled (sure, this was mostly financial and political) so that risk is eliminated, there were questions about safety of the Aries I spacecraft if the abort handle needed to be pulled.
With all the lawsuits, finger pointing, passing blame and those odd warnings on medicine bottles that say "for oral use only", it shows that risk taking is almost something that we should still take, but only when nobody is looking our way.

I always liked Gus Grissom's quote:
If we die, we want people to accept it. We're in a risky business, and we hope that if anything happens to us it will not delay the program. The conquest of space is worth the risk of life.
...and Captain Kirk's speech:
They used to say if man could fly, he’d have wings. But he did fly. He discovered he had to. Do you wish that the first Apollo mission hadn’t reached the moon, or that we hadn’t gone on to Mars and then to the nearest star? That’s like saying you wish that you still operated with scalpels and sewed your patients up with catgut like your great-great-great-great-grandfather used to.

One other thing....I did have to Google for the name of the Trek episode. I'm not THAT geeky!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved your reminiscences!