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Acting NASA chief’s parting advice: Accept risk

Robert Lightfoot
Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot is dwarfed by a chart showing Earth, the moon and Mars at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. “I realize it’s not to scale,” Lightfoot said. “It is to scale, though, in priority.” (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — NASA should rethink its approach to the risks of spaceflight as it prepares for a new wave of exploration, the space agency’s outgoing chief says.

“Protecting against risk and being safe are not the same thing,” Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot told a standing-room crowd here today at the 34th Space Symposium. “Risk is just simply a calculation of likelihood and consequence.”

Lightfoot said he’s worried that excessive risk aversion could hobble NASA as it prepares to build an outpost in lunar orbit and blaze a trail to Mars.

“Would we have ever launched Apollo in the environment we’re in today?” he said. “Would Buzz and Neil have been able to go to the moon in the risk posture we live in today? Would we have launched the first shuttle with a crew?”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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