On This Date in History The ill fated Apollo 13 crew of astronauts Lovell, Swigert and Haise made it safely back to earth. It was truly a remarkable thing. I recall watching it as a kid and how they wheeled TVs into all of the classrooms and we watched it all. Mrs. Staple, my teacher who was a pretty tough woman, was quite emotional when they came back. I was young enough to not know they could possibly not come back. Failure never crossed my mind. I don’t remember if anyone blamed anyone. They looked to find out what went wrong and then moved on. I think today’s media would have been all over it.
Space is the most inhospitable environment for humans that there is. Today the shuttle is the most complicated machine ever built by man. The astronauts know the risks of flying and that it is not completely safe. However, when something goes wrong, we now have the media looking for someone to blame. It can’t possibly be that we are pushing the edge of our limitations. But, we Americans tend to expect perfection or our “can-do” attitude that came about with the dawn of the industrial age and the closing of the frontier in 1890. We couldn’t very well say “go west, young man” any more. So now we think money and technology can over come anything and if it fails, its time for the blame game. Our marketing and expectations as Americans often exceed reality. The truth is, people do sometimes die from a broken leg. But, who would accept that if their loved one went into a hospital with a broken leg and died? Someone would have their Kentucky hammer out real quick.
Below is a link to a story of how the Columbia astronauts families were awarded $26.6 million in compensation for the deaths of the astronauts in 2003. Certainly, NASA granted the award in lieu of fighting a public lawsuit. But I wonder if the astronauts themselves, who know the dangers and extreme risk, would agree with the lawyers regarding the real merits of the case. An item that did jump out at me in the article was that the families of astronauts with PhD’s received more money than the others. I have degrees in Journalism, Meteorology and Physics and History so I am certainly in the camp that believes in the value of an education.
BUT…does that value extend to the value of a human life? Was one of those brave astronauts life with a PhD really a more valuable life than those with a Master’s degree? A response might be to ask the families if they think one person’s life was more valuable. But I would want to ask those in the legal system of the difficulty they must have looking at themselves in the mirror when they determine that one person’s life is worth more than another. Do they feel worthy to make such a judgement? Who would be the arbitor of the value of their life? A family member or maybe a client who ended up on the losing end of a judgement? It would make a big difference, wouldn’t it? How does one determine the true value of a life? Perhaps Mastercard has the answer: Priceless. But, in this case, maybe King Solomon’s wisdom might be needed, though, in a famous example of his judgement, he chose an equal division.