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Quote of the Day – Dare to Fail Greatly

 

Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly. – Robert F. Kennedy

Yes, the man who said this is Bobby Kennedy, a man disliked by the right and who should be distrusted by the left. (Robert Kennedy worked for Joe McCarthy and at the time apparently liked the work.) But when someone is right about something, pay attention, perhaps especially if you dislike the person.

On Thursday Israel attempted to land a spacecraft on the Moon’s surface. They failed. Barely. They lost control of the craft during the final phase of its descent. But a near-failure in the harsh calculus of space is still a total failure.

They dared to fail greatly. They failed, but they came close. There will be a next time, and with the lessons of this failure, their next dare to fail greatly may be rewarded with success. Probably will.

Contrast that attitude with NASA’s. Their current slogan is “Failure is not an option.” That is a fine goal when you have three men heading to the Moon in a crippled spacecraft and need to get them safely back to Earth. It is a lousy goal for an organization whose mission is to explore space and push the limits of achievement. Yet since the mid-1980s that has been NASA’s prime directive. “Failure is not an option.”

There is only one way to guarantee you do not fail. Do not try. Yet between 1988 when Shuttle flights resumed and 2011, when the last Shuttle mission flew, that is what NASA was doing. Not trying. Finding ways to avoid risky missions to eliminate the chance of failure. I was there, working on the Shuttle program through most of that period.

They failed anyway. Which left them yet less willing to dare. Today they are content to hop rides to the ISS aboard Russian boosters while finding justification for not pushing development and testing of an American manned launch system. And the system they are developing uses the very latest concepts from the 1970s. It should be ready by 2025. Or maybe 2030. Possibly 2040. (Yeah, I know. They plan a manned flight Real Soon Now. Just like it was going to be Real Soon Now for the last five years.)

You can only push limits by daring to fail greatly. Which is what Beresheet was about. Which is what SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, Blue Origin, Bigelow, and Virgin Galactic are about. You can argue some of them are not serious. Or not good ideas. Or maybe even crazy. But they are in the arena.

NASA? Its place, at least the place of its leaders, seems to be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. I hope that changes.

Published in Technology
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There are 26 comments.

  1. Coolidge

    Entirely concur. Whatever else it might be tasked with in the future, NASA should not have a say in what others are trying. It’s too risk-averse to play, and aware of that, such that it seems to want to regulate the real players out of the game.

    • #1
    • April 13, 2019 at 9:05 am
    • 9 likes
  2. Thatcher
    She

    It’s good advice for NASA and it’s good advice for life. Unfortunately, we seem to have reached the point where we don’t even dare to fail in eentsy-weentsy ways, let alone failing greatly.

    Thus, kids grow up wrapped in cotton wool, disallowed from doing anything that might expose them to dirt, bugs, danger, or much of any sort of IRL excitement at all.

    Unstructured play, getting wet, getting muddy, swinging from monkey bars, even most physical activities–dodge ball (might get hit with the ball–lawsuit!!!), swings (might fall off–lawsuit!!!) tag-you’re it (fear of inappropriate touching!–lawsuit!!!) red rover (what if my child isn’t picked first–oh, the shame!!!) And on and on.

    Then, when these little bundles of festering and unexplored energy can’t sit still in class, we feed them drugs to calm them down. Because it’s less risky than wearing them out. Right.

    • #2
    • April 13, 2019 at 9:18 am
    • 10 likes
  3. Coolidge
    TBA

    Phil Turmel (View Comment):

    Entirely concur. Whatever else it might be tasked with in the future, NASA should not have a say in what others are trying. It’s too risk-averse to play, and aware of that, such that it seems to want to regulate the real players out of the game.

    Outer space is owned by no man and no government. All airspace between the Earth and vacuum is easement road by definition.

    – plus; you can’t take the sky from me.

    • #3
    • April 13, 2019 at 9:20 am
    • 5 likes
  4. Thatcher

    Seawriter: They failed anyway. Which left them yet less willing to dare.

    For Challenger, the problem was frozen O-rings, with management ignoring engineering’s warnings. For Columbia, it was again management that changed the insolation over the fuel tanks for “environmental considerations.” It wasn’t an over billion to 1 possibility of damage due to space junk or meteorites.

    On the Oregon Trail, if a rock slide or extreme weather would kill travelers, it wouldn’t stop others from trying. Elite management wouldn’t exist to overrule their decision. But Space is different, of course, because money and ego are controlled by bureaucrats.


    The Quote of the Day series is the easiest way to start a fun conversation on Ricochet. We have 4 open dates left on the April Schedule. We even include tips for finding great quotes, so choose your favorite quote and sign up today!

    • #4
    • April 13, 2019 at 9:42 am
    • 6 likes
  5. Coolidge

    She (View Comment):

    It’s good advice for NASA and it’s good advice for life. Unfortunately, we seem to have reached the point where we don’t even dare to fail in eentsy-weentsy ways, let alone failing greatly.

    Thus, kids grow up wrapped in cotton wool, disallowed from doing anything that might expose them to dirt, bugs, danger, or much of any sort of IRL excitement at all.

    Unstructured play, getting wet, getting muddy, swinging from monkey bars, even most physical activities–dodge ball (might get hit with the ball–lawsuit!!!), swings (might fall off–lawsuit!!!) tag-you’re it (fear of inappropriate touching!–lawsuit!!!) red rover (what if my child isn’t picked first–oh, the shame!!!) And on and on.

    Then, when these little bundles of festering and unexplored energy can’t sit still in class, we feed them drugs to calm them down. Because it’s less risky than wearing them out. Right.

    As usual, She, you and I think alike. Let the little bread munchers go about their business: play in the dirt, eat a bug or two, get a scrape and a bump. I don’t think that trying to protect our kids from the rough and tumble of life is good for them.

     

    • #5
    • April 13, 2019 at 9:59 am
    • 6 likes
  6. Coolidge

    I am reminded as I’m sure many of you are as well, of Teddy Rossevelt’s Man in the Arena quote. I use it often, usually in jest, when I fail and my friends or colleagues say “I told you so”. My rejoinder is always the first line: “It’s not the critic who counts…

    …not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    • #6
    • April 13, 2019 at 12:06 pm
    • 7 likes
  7. Member

    The website https://behindtheblack.com does a good job detailing the progress of what he calls “Capitalism in Space”. He is fairly critical of the efforts of NASA these days.

    slightly hijacking the OP:

    @vectorman – The book “Visual Explanations” by Edward Tufte has a detailed analysis of why the engineers worries about the low temperature launch were not taken seriously. They showed the amount of O-ring damage as a function of date and it didn’t really show much. Tufte plotted it as a function of temperature at launch and the relationship is unmistakeable. It makes you want to weep.

    I think a course based on his three books should be part of every engineer’s education.

     

    • #7
    • April 13, 2019 at 2:20 pm
    • 4 likes
  8. Member

    As much as it pains me to say it, we don’t need a government manned space program. We’ve been to the moon. (And we still use the customary English system of weights and measures.)

    NASA does pretty well developing and launching exploration robots. Keep doing that. Let the space entrepreneurs go to the moon and Mars. 

    • #8
    • April 14, 2019 at 5:19 am
    • 2 likes
  9. Coolidge

    Seawriter, inspiring post. 

    • #9
    • April 14, 2019 at 8:47 am
    • 2 likes
  10. Reagan
    iWe

    Vectorman (View Comment):
    But Space is different, of course, because money and ego are controlled by bureaucrats.

    The engineers I know are very happy moving in recursive loops and never advancing at a fast-enough pace.

    Management is an easy target. Everyone likes to blame bean counters.

    But great products do not come from engineers, OR from management. They are a result of an active and sometimes-contentious dynamic between the two.

    • #10
    • April 14, 2019 at 10:42 am
    • 6 likes
  11. Member

    NASA’s golden years were back when we still had the can-do attitude of WW II in the program and the Russians were challengers to be beaten as if the fate of the nation depended on it.

     

    • #11
    • April 14, 2019 at 12:12 pm
    • 2 likes
  12. Thatcher

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    Seawriter: They failed anyway. Which left them yet less willing to dare.

    For Challenger, the problem was frozen O-rings, with management ignoring engineering’s warnings. For Columbia, it was again management that changed the insolation over the fuel tanks for “environmental considerations.” It wasn’t an over billion to 1 possibility of damage due to space junk or meteorites.

    On the Oregon Trail, if a rock slide or extreme weather would kill travelers, it wouldn’t stop others from trying. Elite management wouldn’t exist to overrule their decision. But Space is different, of course, because money and ego are controlled by bureaucrats.


    The Quote of the Day series is the easiest way to start a fun conversation on Ricochet. We have 4 open dates left on the April Schedule. We even include tips for finding great quotes, so choose your favorite quote and sign up today!

    PRIVATE ENTERPRISE!

    • #12
    • April 14, 2019 at 1:45 pm
    • 3 likes
  13. Thatcher

    iWe (View Comment):

    Vectorman (View Comment):
    But Space is different, of course, because money and ego are controlled by bureaucrats.

    The engineers I know are very happy moving in recursive loops and never advancing at a fast-enough pace.

    Management is an easy target. Everyone likes to blame bean counters.

    But great products do not come from engineers, OR from management. They are a result of an active and sometimes-contentious dynamic between the two.

    I grew up, and grew old, in the oilpatch – deepwater drilling. Pessimists need not have applied. Wildcatters. Were we careless? No, too much at risk. Did we press the boundaries? You betcha. Did we lose the bet? Sometimes, sure. But we were successful.

    • #13
    • April 14, 2019 at 2:39 pm
    • 6 likes
  14. Thatcher

    iWe (View Comment):
    The engineers I know are very happy moving in recursive loops and never advancing at a fast-enough pace.

    As the old saw says, sometimes you have to shoot the engineer.

    • #14
    • April 15, 2019 at 7:40 am
    • 2 likes
  15. Thatcher

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    The engineers I know are very happy moving in recursive loops and never advancing at a fast-enough pace.

    As the old saw says, sometimes you have to shoot the engineer.

    A good design engineer knows and understands the meaning of “that’s good enough!”

    • #15
    • April 15, 2019 at 8:04 am
    • 2 likes
  16. Member

    I may have mentioned this in another thread, but one of my favorite professors when I got my MS in Engineering was a full time Engineer and a part time professor. He used to say “In class, you will learn how to optimize a function, but in real life, we “satisfize” and move on”

    • #16
    • April 15, 2019 at 9:59 am
    • 4 likes
  17. Reagan
    iWe

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    The engineers I know are very happy moving in recursive loops and never advancing at a fast-enough pace.

    As the old saw says, sometimes you have to shoot the engineer.

    A good design engineer knows and understands the meaning of “that’s good enough!”

    Not necessarily. There is value in the creative tension between the quest for perfection and the race to the market.

    • #17
    • April 15, 2019 at 12:26 pm
    • 4 likes
  18. Coolidge
    TBA

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    The engineers I know are very happy moving in recursive loops and never advancing at a fast-enough pace.

    As the old saw says, sometimes you have to shoot the engineer.

    A good design engineer knows and understands the meaning of “that’s good enough!”

    The ones that don’t get forced into physicistry. 

    • #18
    • April 15, 2019 at 12:51 pm
    • Like
  19. Thatcher

    iWe (View Comment):

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    The engineers I know are very happy moving in recursive loops and never advancing at a fast-enough pace.

    As the old saw says, sometimes you have to shoot the engineer.

    A good design engineer knows and understands the meaning of “that’s good enough!”

    Not necessarily. There is value in the creative tension between the quest for perfection and the race to the market.

    An engineering manager used the phrase “How round should you make the cannonball? Only round enough to work in the cannon.” True, of course. But as Steven Covey mentions in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you need to “Sharpen the Saw’ or else you’re not progressing.

    • #19
    • April 15, 2019 at 12:57 pm
    • 3 likes
  20. Member

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    The engineers I know are very happy moving in recursive loops and never advancing at a fast-enough pace.

    As the old saw says, sometimes you have to shoot the engineer.

    A good design engineer knows and understands the meaning of “that’s good enough!”

    Not necessarily. There is value in the creative tension between the quest for perfection and the race to the market.

    An engineering manager used the phrase “How round should you make the cannonball? Only round enough to work in the cannon.” True, of course. But as Steven Covey mentions in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you need to “Sharpen the Saw’ or else you’re not progressing.

    That must be why Jack Aubrey’s gun crews spent so much time “chipping” their cannon balls. 

    • #20
    • April 15, 2019 at 3:42 pm
    • 2 likes
  21. Member
    Seawriter Post author

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    The engineers I know are very happy moving in recursive loops and never advancing at a fast-enough pace.

    As the old saw says, sometimes you have to shoot the engineer.

    A good design engineer knows and understands the meaning of “that’s good enough!”

    Not necessarily. There is value in the creative tension between the quest for perfection and the race to the market.

    An engineering manager used the phrase “How round should you make the cannonball? Only round enough to work in the cannon.” True, of course. But as Steven Covey mentions in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you need to “Sharpen the Saw’ or else you’re not progressing.

    That must be why Jack Aubrey’s gun crews spent so much time “chipping” their cannon balls.

    That and idle hands are the Devil’s playthings. Chipping cannon balls may be dull, but it is time consuming and keeps the crew busy.

    • #21
    • April 15, 2019 at 4:39 pm
    • 3 likes
  22. Thatcher

    TBA (View Comment):

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    The engineers I know are very happy moving in recursive loops and never advancing at a fast-enough pace.

    As the old saw says, sometimes you have to shoot the engineer.

    A good design engineer knows and understands the meaning of “that’s good enough!”

    The ones that don’t get forced into physicistry.

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):

    Slow on the uptake (View Comment):

    Vectorman (View Comment):

    iWe (View Comment):
    The engineers I know are very happy moving in recursive loops and never advancing at a fast-enough pace.

    As the old saw says, sometimes you have to shoot the engineer.

    A good design engineer knows and understands the meaning of “that’s good enough!”

    Not necessarily. There is value in the creative tension between the quest for perfection and the race to the market.

    An engineering manager used the phrase “How round should you make the cannonball? Only round enough to work in the cannon.” True, of course. But as Steven Covey mentions in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, you need to “Sharpen the Saw’ or else you’re not progressing.

     

    • #22
    • April 15, 2019 at 6:52 pm
    • 1 like
  23. Thatcher

    I started to respond but realized the repartee might be getting a bit circular.

    • #23
    • April 15, 2019 at 6:54 pm
    • 2 likes
  24. Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Chipping cannon balls

    The internet doesn’t know much about this phrase.

    • #24
    • April 15, 2019 at 6:55 pm
    • Like
  25. Coolidge
    TBA

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Chipping cannon balls

    The internet doesn’t know much about this phrase.

    It was a rare sport that required prohibitively expensive clubs. 

    • #25
    • April 15, 2019 at 7:03 pm
    • 3 likes
  26. Member
    Seawriter Post author

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Seawriter (View Comment):
    Chipping cannon balls

    The internet doesn’t know much about this phrase.

    Anything after the first five words is superfluous.

    • #26
    • April 15, 2019 at 7:32 pm
    • 5 likes