We need to get more comfortable with the idea of people dying in space

Even 150 years ago, Americans lived very different and riskier lives. They traveled places where water, food, shelter and safety were uncertain. Where the risk of sickness and death was high.

Today, we couldn’t be more coddled. We fly across the country for hardly any money. We never worry about being someplace far from food. We are healthier than we’ve ever been. We live longer than ever. Despite our increased security and stability — things people ostensibly value — women, at least, have also experienced declining happiness. We’re wealthier and healthier — materially, if not spiritually — than we ever have been and yet people aren’t exploding with happiness. That’s a very complicated question with many answers.

But perhaps a small part of it is that regulations and massive risk-averse government programs enable security at the expense of things that are also valuable to humans and our happiness, such as exploration of new frontiers.

It used to be that space exploration was NASA’s primary objective. Now it’s “getting everyone back safely.” When that’s your objective, it makes you extremely risk averse. If you’re scared of falling down a snowy mountain, you might not snowboard so much. You certainly won’t snowboard aggressively and you won’t push yourself to try new moves. And you’ll also probably fall just as much if not more than if you’d had the objective of becoming a great snowboarder.