Worth preserving in full, this is the balls forward section of my collection:
On Thu, 11 Jan 1996 15:53:28 -0800, Brian varine <[email protected]>
Brian> I remember ROTFL on a post a while back where Mary Shafer said
Brian> something like
Brian> “Absolute safety is for those people without the balls to
Brian> accept reality” or something to that effect.
Brian> How about correcting me on this one?
I wrote, “Insisting on absolute safety is for people who don't have
the balls to live in the real world.”
It appeared on sci.space or sci.space.shuttle in 1989 or 1990 during
one of the cyclical “why did NASA blow up the shuttle” threads or on
rec.military during a “how dare those pilots crash the taxpayers'
airplanes” thread, also a cyclical thread. I had gotten to a point of
complete exasperation when I wrote this.
Here's the whole thing:
But, no matter what you do, it will never be perfectly, 100% risk-free
to fly. Or to drive, or to walk, or to do anything.
One of our pilots here died when he waited too long to eject from a
spinning aircraft. He was wrong; he should have jumped out earlier.
He failed in his duty, IMO.
One of our engineers was walking his dog when a car driven by a kid
jumped the curb and hit him. Only his leg was broken. But he walks
his dog again, now. Who know better than him the danger?
There's no way to make life perfectly safe; you can't get out of it alive.
You can't even predict every danger. How can you guard against a hazard
you can't even conceive of?
I agree that the days of “kick the tires and light the fires” are gone,
but insisting on perfect safety is the single most reliable way of
killing an aerospace project.
I've been on both sides of the FRR (Flight Readiness Review) process
for a number of aeronautical projects. Experienced engineers try to
think of everything that can go wrong. But airplanes can still
surprise the best team.
I've had to sign a form, certifying that to the best of my knowledge
everything that we're going to do on a flight is safe. I've never
seriously asked myself “What will I say to the AIB (Accident
Investigation Board)” because once one starts on that, the form will
never be signed, the flight will never be flown, and the research will
never be done.
But I have asked myself “Have I told everybody exactly what we're
going to do and what the _known_ risks are and are we agreed that
these risks are acceptable” and when I can answer that “yes” I sign
the form. That also answers the question of what I'd say to the AIB.
I'm not talking about abstract theories here, I'm talking about test
pilots that I've known for decades. Believe me, I _know_ exactly what
the consequences of a mistake on my part could mean. The reminders
are all around me: Edwards AFB — killed in the XB-49, Lilly
Ave — first NASA pilot killed at what's now Dryden, Love Rd — I _saw_
Mike's burning F-4 auger into the lakebed, with him in it. But once
I've done my best, like everybody else on the team, it's time to go
fly the airplane.
Insisting on perfect safety is for people who don't have the balls to
live in the real world.
Mary Shafer NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA
SR-71 Flying Qualities Lead Engineer Of course I don't speak for NASA
[email protected] DoD #362 KotFR
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