My heavens… my sweet heavens. I’m going to try hard to maintain my composure and professionalism, but it’s hard as a space professional to deal with debasing of our work.
The very notion that shooting up one more person means one more person shot up… and therefore “more done git”… is a child’s notion of space exploration. Much like the schoolchildrens’ experiment of putting up an ant colony into orbit aboard the shuttle, when given a chance in the late ‘80s to fly their own experiment. Because ants in space! In space! They’re in space! (I wonder if this is how Christian ecclesiastics feel about Santa Claus as theology.)
The notion of humans in space because humans in space is a late-‘50s notion, already dated by the late ‘60s, let alone the mid ‘70s. Human presence aboard space vehicles needs a mission requirement and a success criterion, which in the first few years was simply proving (in the sense of field trials, i.e., proving grounds) that it could be done, then proving further details and decimal places on the criteria. After reasonably concluding that it could be done, humans in space because humans is then a stunt, not a fulfilled requirement. This was the path of the aviation industry, after the experimental era (1900s to ~World War I) led to the Barnstorming Era (Air circuses and sideshows), because neither air mail nor airlines turned a profit without massive subsidization.
We are not staging circuses for public amusement… or at least, I refuse to. Private billionaires are tacitly doing so, and as long as it’s their money then they can blow it. And yet, neither Branson, Bezos, Ansari, or Musk are interested in throwing their billions to hacks and amateurs. In the direct sense, a billion can disappear before you realize it, and then you’re down a billion. In the operations sense, these vehicles (and more) operate in ranges, airspaces and orbital zones that result in consequences for failure. Rutan had a propellant explosion ON THE GROUND that killed a few of his employees- even aside from labor violations, you won’t keep your operation running when your own staff fear for their jobs/lives/whatevers. Dropping a live rocket on a populated area can also make a billion disappear before you know it, so these (current) billionaires are thinking twice before approving plans and cutting metal.
And those are the stunters, at least at first glance. Branson and Bezos actually hope to (eventually) make their money back and then some by selling tickets; Musk plans on making the investment pay back via Starlink, third-party payloads, DoD/NASA contracts, etc. (There’s the Mars PR, but it’s possible that the notion of “Mars!” is a marketing/advertising gambit for the benefit of the greater operation.) The rest of us are NOT doing some stunt: space because “space!”.
Therefore, making the success criteria lower, not higher, is less than possible, it’s actually harmful to our industry (at least, by certain metrics). The loss of schedule due to post-investigation grounding leads to loss of funds (time is money), loss of staff (trained engineers can jump to other fields), loss of capital via investor flight… and in the general sense another loss of confidence may lead to yet another “space winter” just like for AI.
Santa Claus can lower his sleigh margins because… Santa and the sleigh aren’t real, and the presents will arrive without consequences. You can also search for the schoolchildrens’ space ant project to see what waste looks like (though no real monetary consequence occurred). Meanwhile, those of us with real paychecks for successfully meeting our real mission criteria- not amusing a fickle and distractable audience- won’t waste our time and effort.
My source: over twenty years of academic/DoD/NASA work. With paychecks to match, because the goal wasn’t amusement. (Therefore, almost all of those projects were uncrewed, not wasteful.)