History Unplugged – The Age of Discovery 2.0: Episode 5

Episode five of the six part series, The Age of Discovery 2.0, from the podcast, History Unplugged, is now available here.

On this episode Scott Rank interviews Rand Simberg. From the show summary:

The history of exploration and establishment of new lands, science and technologies has always entailed risk to the health and lives of the explorers. Yet, when it comes to exploring and developing the high frontier of space, the harshest frontier ever, the highest value is apparently not the accomplishment of those goals, but of minimizing, if not eliminating, the possibility of injury or death of the humans carrying them out.

To talk about the need for accepting risk in the name of discovery – whether during Magellan’s voyage in which 90 percent of the crew died or in the colonization of Mars – is aerospace engineer and science writer Rand Simberg, author of Safe Is Not An Option: Overcoming The Futile Obsession With Getting Everyone Back Alive That Is Killing Our Expansion Into Space.

For decades since the end of Apollo, human spaceflight has been very expensive and relatively rare (about 500 people total, with a death rate of about 4%), largely because of this risk aversion on the part of the federal government and culture. From the Space Shuttle, to the International Space Station, the new commercial crew program to deliver astronauts to it, and the regulatory approach for commercial spaceflight providers, our attitude toward safety has been fundamentally irrational, expensive and even dangerous, while generating minimal accomplishment for maximal cost.

Rand explains why this means that we must regulate passenger safety in the new commercial spaceflight industry with a lighter hand than many might instinctively prefer, that NASA must more carefully evaluate rewards from a planned mission to rationally determine how much should be spent to avoid the loss of participants, and that Congress must stop insisting that safety is the highest priority, for such insistence is an eloquent testament to how unimportant they and the nation consider the opening of this new frontier.

Definitely worth a listen, especially considering our society’s panic over COVID. Our society appears incapable of accepting any risk at all, even though risk cannot be avoided, and to do great things you must embrace it in some manner.

History Unplugged – The Age of Discovery 2.0

The podcast, History Unplugged, created by Scott Rank from the History on the Web webpage, has put together a six part podcast called The Age of Discovery 2.0 with the goal of exploring how today’s new effort to colonize the solar system can learn from the first age of discovery that began when Columbus discovered the New World in 1492. From the announcement:

No era transformed Western Civilization like the Age of Discovery. Before then, Europe was an economic and military weakling that had suffered centuries of defeat from Islamic empires. Constantinople, Greece, Serbia, and the Crimea had all fallen to the Ottomans in the 15th century. Compared to its richer, more educated, and far more powerful rivals in the East, Europe was the Third World of the late medieval era. Chroniclers saw it as living in a long twilight, far removed from its golden age. It had nothing to look forward to but Judgment Day.

But with Columbus’s discovery of the New World, the West was reborn. Trade routes to Africa, India, and China opened. Ship building began at a furious pace. New wealth flowed into European capitals. At the same time, printing presses spread new ideas about science, religion, and technology. Literacy rates exploded. Above all, anyone willing to brave the dangers of traveling and settling in the New World could seek their fortune, bypassing whatever their birth status was in Europe’s rigid social hierarchy. Because of the Age of Discovery, for the first time in generations, Western Civilization had hope in the future.

Today, an Age of Discovery 2.0 is upon us. With Elon Musk promising rocket launch costs at $200/kilo (one percent of the Space Shuttle’s launch costs, with much lower costs to come), the price of sending explorers to space will soon match the cost of a ticket on the Mayflower in 1620. In a few decades, the Moon, Mars, and other planetary bodies will be as accessible to humans as the New World was in the Age of Sail.

How will the Age of Discovery 2.0 change our civilization the way the first one did five centuries ago?

To find the answer, History Unplugged is interviewing historians, scientists, and futurists who have spent decades researching this question by looking at the past to understand the future. It will explore how:

Scott asked me to be one of his guests, which also include Robert Zubrin, Glenn Reynolds, Rand Simberg. Episode #4 will focus on the history I outline in my new book, Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space. The topic fit perfectly with his series.

The series begins airing tonight, and will continue for the next two weeks.