Do you need to remember? ABSOLUTELY.
Is it enough to just remember? OF COURSE NOT.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”
– George Santayana
There were so many things that were done after each incident… so many things that should have been done *BEFORE* each incident… so many clues that were not recognized.
- Don’t have a pure oxygen environment inside a closed spacecraft.
- Don’t launch outside of previously-tested temperatures.
- Don’t let high-energy debris hit critical spacecraft structures.
- …and so many more.
That’s the beauty of 20/20 hindsight. It’s also the curse. The “what if’s?”
For Manned Spaceflight, those “what if’s?” need to become actionable. If you don’t learn from those harsh lessons, you will continue to encounter those “ultimate consequences“. If you continue to have “ultimate consequences”, eventually you will not be doing what you set out to do – whether by your doing, or by external forces taking you (and your organization) out of the loop.
We’ve been lucky, in that public opinion has been generally supportive of continuing the progress of spaceflight.
But the public is extremely fickle. Recent support for space has dwindled. I would even hazard a guess that most of the general public isn’t even aware that we’ve had a *permanent* presence in space for almost the last 20 years on ISS.
However — if the program were to have another crew loss, the laser-like focus of the critical media would most likely drive public opinion against continuation this time. So … besides the obvious potential loss of human life, the program just can’t afford to make the same mistakes.
“Failure Is Not An Option”
The simple response, though, is “Yes it is.”
The sad truth is that humans are fallible. We will fail. It’s inevitable.
The “Option”, though, should be that failure is done in a learning environment. HOWEVER – everyone involved has to make sure that failures are uncovered *BEFORE* human lives are involved. Then, if you recognize the critical lessons, LEARN THEM to make sure that failure is not repeated.
We conducted so many simulations in Mission Control, both “generic” and “flight specific”, where we had choices to make. Choices that either led to success or failure. Sometimes, that failure led to the loss of the vehicle and crew.
Those were hard lessons to learn, but FAR FAR better to learn them, and have the lesson burned hard into your thought process, when it was “just a simulation”, than to actually have it happen in real-time. My pilot friends in the military and in the airline industry all know exactly what I mean.
When you have lives-on-the-line, it’s not time to be in a learning environment. They expect you to be perfect. Every time.
So, you have to learn from those failures… and not repeat them.
Repeating those failures is what should be considered “not an option”.
As has happened in almost every accident review ever, there are error chains that include multiple failure scenario links that led to the ultimate result. Had “just one” or more of those links-in-the-chain been broken, perhaps that particular failure could have been avoided.
Most of the time – there will be someone who *does* recognize it. Someone who sees the chain. Someone who may even have tried to speak up and break the link.
There may be also someone else who does not listen. Someone who thinks that the warning isn’t credible.
We need to pass along these lessons to the “next generation”. They need to learn that they will make mistakes, but they need to learn from them… correct them… don’t repeat them… be willing to look beyond themselves and be brave enough to stand up and say “What about…?”
Be the one who recognizes… not the one who does not listen.
THAT is the only way to answer the question “Now What?” and truly honor those that we have lost.