Safety is not guaranteed

Life on the frontier (any frontier) has always been dangerous and uncomfortable. Safety is not guaranteed. As a society, we have forgotten this basic truth. We’ve all gotten very comfortable with our modern lifestyle.

Lunar Homesteaders may not have to face hungry wildlife or justifiably angry indigenous people, but radiation or decompression will kill you just the same. Sometimes a rock will penetrate a habitat, possibly killing everyone inside (less likely if it’s under 10 meters of undisturbed regolith). The main oxygen tank might leak out, leaving the Homestead with an insufficient supply of air. Or maybe a rocket won’t fire at the right time, sending Homesteaders out into the Dark or crashing to the surface. The Lunar dust could destroy your lungs and the low gravity could destroy your bones. Or maybe the isolation, constant danger, and lack of a huge living environment filled with other humans causes you to mentally and emotionally break down. Luna, just like Earth, has a lot of ways to kill humans.

Currently, we spend a lot of time and money making our “human-rated” equipment as safe as possible. This is good up to the point when safety starts to significantly slow down progress. However, sending people into hostile environments with deliberately inadequate equipment and training is also wrong. We’ll need to find a balance between risk, cost, and time. A balance between really safe and safe enough.

There are two very good reasons why we dedicate so much time, money, and effort into making human spaceflight as safe as possible. Spaceflight is still very expensive. Losing a spacecraft not only kills the crew; it also kills the mission you were trying to achieve. The other major driver is that the public freaks out when astronauts die on their TV. An upset public, and politicians, can quickly shut down a government funded program. That’s one of the major reasons why LH shouldn’t be tied to public funding.

There have been 14 U.S. and 4 Russian (Soviet) confirmed fatalities caused during spaceflight (1961 to 2020) [76]. More have died during training and other activities. As of April 23, 2020, there have been 575 people in space (the number varies depending on sources) [77]. That’s a 3.1% fatality rate (more or less). So, even with all our effort spaceflight is still pretty dangerous (compared to most other forms of transportation). It’s interesting to note that all of these fatalities occurred during the launch from, and reentry to, the Earth. I would argue that Homesteaders will be in much less risk once they are done with the transportation phase and working on their new home.

Lunar Homesteaders, especially the Pathfinders, will voluntarily accept a higher level of risk. It’s part of the job, just like other professions. If explorers and settlers in other eras waited until the technology, or circumstances, were as safe as possible they would have never left. The old saying “fortune favors the bold” definitely applies here.

The majority of the population will have no interest in becoming Homesteaders. Most won’t be able to understand why anyone would want to. And that’s good because they aren’t the type of people who would thrive on the frontier anyway. They can, however, support those that are willing to take the risks and endure the hardships. We only need that small, special sub-set of the population that has what it takes to be Homesteaders and who want to be there regardless of the dangers. You might say, those with “the right stuff”.

We can’t stop pushing back the frontier whenever a Homesteader (or group of Homesteaders) dies. Sure, it will be a tragedy and we will mourn their loss. And we will need to figure out what happened so it doesn’t happen again (or at least less frequently). But we can’t hit the pause button for years. The Space Shuttle program stopped flying for 2.5 years after Challenger and over a year after Columbia. Now, the Shuttle is still the most complex machine ever built by humans; they probably needed years to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it [78]. Another reason to keep the tech as simple as possible.

Homesteaders will die. We need to accept this fact. We can’t let the risk keep us from going out there. More importantly, we can’t let OUR (non-Homesteaders) fear of risk keep THEM (Pathfinders, Pioneers, and Settlers) from settling the Lunar Frontier. The rewards are too great. The risk of doing nothing is so much greater than the risk of losing some Homesteaders. And I’m sure the Homesteaders would completely agree.

Resources

76) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spaceflight-related_accidents_and_incidents

77) https://www.worldspaceflight.com/bios/stats.php

78) https://spaceflight.nasa.gov/shuttle/upgrades/upgrades5.html

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