Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Rolling the Loaded Dice

While taking a break from the sudden list of eighty-three things I've had piling up, I watched a bit of a Star Trek: Enterprise episode, of which the Sci-Fi Channel has been rerunning. In the episode, the Captain decides to give the ship a major weapons overhaul instead of returning to Earth's solar system so they can better defend themselves against a virtually invincible foe.

Later, the Captain regrets a decision to rush this new ship out of space dock, before these weapon enhancements were complete. His chief engineer reminds him that he had to accept that risk because the reason it was rushed out was to complete an important mission. He finishes his little lecture by noting that other pioneers of space (notably the ones of our era) sat on millions of liters of rocket fuel--they took on great risks too. That's what it means to do amazing things.

He was clearly talking about NASA, which I found strange. There is no doubt that the astronauts are brave, but the risks they take are not the seat-of-your-pants, on the fly, kind of risks. Those are best left for true revolutionaries, like when the Enterprise left space dock incomplete. The risks NASA astronauts take are calculated risks. Extremely calculated. NASA astronauts are not some "space cowboys," living by their wits alone, bravely the blackness of space like a rugged invididual. They are arms of a bureaucracy. Risk takers? Yes. Legendary heroes? Not quite.

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