Is a shuttle rescue mission worth it?
Jun 18, 2008 12:41 PM
Over at Nature
, Zeeya Merali (a former AAAS Media Fellow here at Sci Am) has an interesting description of plans
to keep the Endeavour
shuttle on standby in case something goes wrong with Atlantis
during the Hubble servicing mission this fall. I think it's worth asking two hard questions. First, is the cost of preparing a rescue mission justified by the likelihood (estimated at one in 400) of its happening? Second, would the cost of such a mission, if it came to pass, be justified?
The average shuttle flight costs $450 million
, so a rescue would amount to $65 million per astronaut saved. (It would, of course, also save one other life: NASA's.) That is 10 times as much as society typically spends to save lives through, for example, environmental or workplace safety regulations. To be sure, there is a wide range of cost per life saved -- people are notoriously inconsistent about risk.
I don't mean to sound hard-hearted, but I do have to question the priorities here. I bet the astronauts themselves -- who know what they've signed up for -- would, if asked, prefer that the money be spent on saving lives elsewhere.
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