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Failing to See the Big Picture

by edlu | on Jan 04, 2012 | No Comments

Some years back I was involved in a discussion of how much radiation shielding we needed to put on a spaceship for a manned mission to Mars.   At issue was how to keep the expected risk from cancer down to a few percent.  This required an enormous amount of shielding to be put on the spacecraft, to the point where it might actually increase the astronauts overall chance of dying because the spacecraft could become so heavy that the rocket was less reliable and other safety systems were compromised.  This was crazy because we at the time were considering missions where the chance of dying because of a rocket failure somewhere during the 3 year voyage might be 50 percent.  It was a bit like being overly concerned with a mountain climber eating too much unhealthy fatty foods for breakfast on the morning he is going to scale Mount Everest.  We got carried away with the dangers of developing cancer over 30 years, and we lost sight of the fact that on such a mission our chief danger was in having a rocket or other system failure.

Sometimes the things we worry about aren’t the biggest threat.

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