Author Topic: Why don't people treat spaceflight the same way as they treat mountaineering?  (Read 986 times)

Online Svetoslav

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I am personally happy to be blessed to live in a country that has a lot of mountains. And I'm an avid hiker. Although our mountains aren't as prominent as those in Nepal, with a typical height between 1500-3000 m, they are still dangerous. This means that people occasionally die. But the general population doesn't care much. Some people remark that if you die there, then you're too stupid to have abandoned the comfort of your home. Just what the hell are you doing there? On the other side mountain climbers treat critics with equal contempt : after all, who are you to tell me how to live my life? My point is that the general population doesn't have a high opinion about mountain tourism... and this isn't limited to Bulgaria. Of course, I can always justify my mountain treks with collecting samples and bringing those samples to the lab. But the simple fact is that most of those who go there are doing it just for their own sake, and not to enrich human knowledge.

And this is just Bulgaria. I can see the same attitude to those who climb mountains all over the world. Let's take for example Nepal, Everest and K2. People die there every year. Yes, occasionally concerns are being raised about where it's worth to commercialize Everest when we know it's very dangerous. Still those concerns aren't taken seriously. Sherpas earn money, westerners are willing to give money. People are climbing Everest, and if they die, their corpses remain there. Everest is literally littered with dead bodies, and climbers see them...

What surprised me, however, is the general indifference to these deaths. People don't see Everest as the mountain of the death, although it could be aptly named so. They don't lose sleep if someone gets lost there and is never found.

Compare this to the huge outcry when same things happen in spaceflight. Why don't people treat space the same way? Space is also dangerous. Private companies want to commercialize it, and during these efforts a test pilot died about four years ago. Yet this death became widely publicized and people were raising concerns that we shouldn't let everyone go into space, that exploring space is a waste of money. This happens literally every time when a manned space mission gets into trouble.

How can we explain this obvious double standard?
« Last Edit: 04/16/2018 01:27 PM by Svetoslav »

Offline IRobot

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Simple. You have a few hundred of people that went to space since 1960's and you have the same number of mountaineers that go up to a mountain per minute. The same way that billions of people hit the roads everyday and a few thousand die per day.

Regarding those who don't want people to go to space because it is dangerous, those people are just making bad excuses for their arguments, usually in the form of "we should not spend money on space exploration until we solve world's problems first."

Online Coastal Ron

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What surprised me, however, is the general indifference to these deaths. People don't see Everest as the mountain of the death, although it could be aptly named so. They don't lose sleep if someone gets lost there and is never found.

Compare this to the huge outcry when same things happen in spaceflight. Why don't people treat space the same way? Space is also dangerous. Private companies want to commercialize it, and during these efforts a test pilot died about four years ago. Yet this death became widely publicized and people were raising concerns that we shouldn't let everyone go into space, that exploring space is a waste of money. This happens literally every time when a manned space mission gets into trouble.

How can we explain this obvious double standard?

Couple of things:

1. The news media, at least here in the U.S., has to market stories of interest so that people will watch or read on a regular basis. Because media companies are typically profit-driven entities, and they require audiences in order to sell advertising. Nothing wrong about that, but I just want to make sure everyone remembers that the media is always looking for the drama of the day, and if they think it's from an aerospace event they will focus on it.

2. With NASA, every death in space requires a Congressional overview because it was the result of a failure in an expensive taxpayer-funded program. Even though other deaths in other expensive taxpayer-funded programs don't get the same attention. So likely it is due to the small amount of people that are going to space and the attention it naturally gets.

3. Deaths in space when part of private-sector only operations won't get the same level of attention as NASA ones because there is unlikely to be a large, public investigation that allows the media to highlight or create drama (see #1 above). But we're obviously not there yet, and when we do get there we could risk downplaying deaths in space too, so there needs to be balance.

4. Once we're expanding humanity out into space, if someone dies of heart failure it won't generate much attention. But if someone dies as the result of a spaceship crash, well, the public LOVES crashes...  :o
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline RDoc

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IMHO a big difference is that mountaineering is very old, private, and familiar. Spaceflight is new, very public, and spectacular. Even if people are killed doing completely private space tourism, there will be a huge public outcry because it's so new and photogenic.

Consider the hue and cry about Tesla accidents, even though many seem to be largely the fault of the driver. Cars with driving assistance are so new, fatalities attract attention even though they are overall safer than manually driven cars.

Online whitelancer64

Off topic:

"Everest: Mountain of Death" would be an awesome documentary name.

On topic:

You're much more likely to die driving to the grocery store than you are flying in a passenger plane. But people tend to believe that flying is much more risky than driving a car. That's probably because car crashes don't get news coverage (unless it's a Tesla (even though the widely-reported Tesla battery fires were occuring much less frequently than gasoline car fires)) but airplane crashes do get reported on the news.

In short, I agree with everything Coastal Ron said. It's basically a media hype issue.
"One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree -- make sure you understand the fundamental principles, ie the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to." - Elon Musk
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Offline mme

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Mountaineers usually die because they made a bad decision (went out in bad weather, chose a route beyond their abilities, did not bring appropriate gear for the conditions, etc) or got unlucky (freak storm, medical emergency, tripped, etc.) Astronauts usually die because someone else made a bad decision or mistake (bad design, production error, deciding to launch while overriding engineers concerns, etc.)

If a huge percentage of mountaineering deaths  were because of badly designed or faultily produced equipment, I guarantee you there would be a public outcry in the press and in the mountaineering community as well.

Also, is there really a huge outcry? A few people complain. No government agency tried to shutdown VG. VG had to build a new vehicle and were busy having issues with their hybrid engine. I think most of the delays were internal to VG, not some universal aversion to risk. Maybe NASA/ASAP are being over cautious, but the Space Shuttle lost 14 of 833 crew and SpaceX has lost 2 vehicles. Certainly some level of concern is valid.
Space is not Highlander.  There can, and will, be more than one.

Offline Ludus

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So far, Space flight has been done by governments that design and supervise everything, pick the missions and employ the people. If mountaineering was something done by government monsanauts it would probably be similar.

When space is mostly commercial and private, risks will be treated similarly.
« Last Edit: 04/23/2018 02:00 AM by Ludus »

Offline JAFO

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Why climb a mountain? “Because it’s there.”


Why go to space? The Right Stuff. Apollo 13. The Starship Enterprise.








Anyone can go climb a mountain. To go to space is a whole ‘nother thing.
Anyone can do the job when things are going right. In this business we play for keeps.
— Ernest K. Gann

Online AncientU

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Mountaineers usually die because they made a bad decision (went out in bad weather, chose a route beyond their abilities, did not bring appropriate gear for the conditions, etc) or got unlucky (freak storm, medical emergency, tripped, etc.) Astronauts usually die because someone else made a bad decision or mistake (bad design, production error, deciding to launch while overriding engineers concerns, etc.)

If a huge percentage of mountaineering deaths  were because of badly designed or faultily produced equipment, I guarantee you there would be a public outcry in the press and in the mountaineering community as well.

Also, is there really a huge outcry? A few people complain. No government agency tried to shutdown VG. VG had to build a new vehicle and were busy having issues with their hybrid engine. I think most of the delays were internal to VG, not some universal aversion to risk. Maybe NASA/ASAP are being over cautious, but the Space Shuttle lost 14 of 833 crew and SpaceX has lost 2 vehicles. Certainly some level of concern is valid.

Of course, some level... question is what level?

In the marketplace, there is feedback called competition to throttle one's enthusiasm for a zero risk standard.  VG will have to deal with its loss both in court and the marketplace.  Lose a couple more spaceships, and the marketplace will avoid buying tickets and a few more bereaved families will say, "See you in court."  Same with launch services... customers and the insurance industry 'regulate' launch vehicle reliability directly.

The USG has no such regulators for risk -- the hoards of OIG, CBO, Congressional oversight, ASAP, etc. can only say 'stop.  Imagine Congress with every one of the 535 members having veto power -- no legislation would ever get passed*. 

No one can provide feedback that enough is enough, or this level of risk is tolerable, so the unregulated risk aversion ramps to the stops.


* Hmmmmmmmmm... might be on to something...
« Last Edit: 04/23/2018 05:31 PM by AncientU »
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