Space Travel and Risk
The recent crash of Virgin Galactic‘s SpaceShipTwo was sad news for anyone interested in space travel. Most reports focus on the possible cause of the crash. This is important, but it conceals another issue. And that is the matter of risk.
A good number of people — me included — are uncomfortable when flying. It’s not surprising. To be stuck in a confined metal and plastic tube, several miles up in the air, packed in with strangers and with no visible means of support is not a naturally relaxing experience. But though many fliers think about the possibility of crashing, few consider the risk in a quantitative way. And that’s a problem when we move to pleasure-flights in space.
As human beings, we are very poor at handling probability, which is what risk is all about. It doesn’t matter how many times, for instance, we have the “birthday paradox” explained to us, it still seems strange that we only need to list 23 people to have a better than 50 percent chance that two have the same birthday. And this probability blindness is illustrated brilliantly by a probabilistic puzzle known as the Monty Hall problem.
The details of the problem aren’t —> Read More Here