Fragile Space Exploration is Fragile

I just finished reading Antifragile. Yeah, it took me a while, but things like life kept getting in the way and I didn’t want to rush a book that’s intended to make you think. Boy, did it make me think.  For the moment, I find myself constantly analyzing things and systems around me – putting them in buckets of ‘fragile,’ ‘robust,’ and ‘antifragile.’ And, I’m sorry to say, but it feels like space exploration (for the moment) sits next to fine china and elderly hips in the ‘fragile’ bucket on many axes:

Politics – At the moment space exploration depends on NASA, and NASA depends on the government. Every time priorities shift on Capitol Hill, projects at NASA get shuffled around, wasting money and effort.

Engineering – Almost anything goes wrong during launch? Mission Failure. Almost anything malfunctions on the entire complex spacecraft? Mission Failure. Bump into something else in space? Mission Failure. Run out of fuel or coolant? Mission Failure. You get the idea.

 Private Space Flight – I am 110% behind private money funding space exploration, but for now it seems like that money comes from a narrow base – earth observation, space tourism, some amount of zero g research, and possible mining in the future.  An industry that rests on such a narrow base screams ‘fragile’ to me.

 Public Interest – Finally, there’s the fact that most people just don’t care that much, so the fate of space exploration is vulnerable to volatility in interest rather than being able to abuse the much more stable motive that is profit-seeking.

 I’m not pointing these fragilities out just to condemn them, but in the hope that the more we explicitly say “this is fragile” the more incentive there will be to change it so that it becomes more robust.

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