[FPSPACE] minimizing future deaths in space

KEITH GOTTSCHALK kgottschalk@uwc.ac.za
21 Sep 2000 21:33:11 +0200

     Since we started this discussion, we now learn of
umpteen radio-active balls / droplets that will some year or
decade descent to ISS / shuttle operating altitudes .....

   The numerous contributors seem to indicate that the
cheapest, most practical  solution is to R & D the
"flat-packed bubbles" concept & add it to a future ISS
supply run.

     Of course, the 1st challenge with capturing a
power-dead, tumbling in all 3 axes space station, is that
the equivalent of grappling irons or an aircraft carrier's
tailhook / cable mechanism might inflict unacceptable force.
   Some jumbo version of a kevlar or carbon fibre net,
perhaps with robotic holders in each corner to de-spin,
might be the best way to go.

    JimO's provocative, actuarial contribution certainly
succeeds in acting as the devil's advocate.  (but remember:
who was arguing how could Glenn at his age perform an
emergency egress? grin ) Magellan's voyage bears you out -
three ships with was it ? 280 men leave,  one ship with
seventeen men return. No way any federal agency head, still
less any private flight company at the mercy of ambulance
lawyers, could dare accept such risks. In fact today even a
Marine Corps major could only justify those sort of figures
if it swung  the result on an entire battle theatre.

    The irony is that all of us know that the traffic deaths
in the USA or in South Africa are an order of magnitude
higher, each week, than the number of deaths we are
anticipating.  Perhaps my bleeding heart evasion of JimO's
logic is to admit that if today's space safety standards are
way higher than on historical frontiers, that does initially
drastically reduce the numbers of us in space (cost).  But 
mastering safer technologies earlier on, whose price will
also fall over time, will accelerate the start of
routinization of mass space travel & commuting. Even though
that start will not be Mars, but sub-orbital 
jumbo-scramjets, & LEO.

    If the litigation demon is exorcized, (say contracts for
hang gliders, micro-lights, white water rafting as
templates), the other side of the private sector coin is
that whenever Himalayan avalanches wipe out a party of
wealthy US adventurers, US national prestige is not
involved. If a Kistler,  Orbital Sciences, VentureStar, or
Roton rocket ruptures, the same. But then, the herd instinct
on Wall Street & NASDAQ have their own version of a
congressional witch-hunt.....