Sentimental Journey

I woke up this morning and watched a video of the space shuttle Atlantis landing for the last time. The shuttle landed at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Strangely this event has a big impact on the Taker household. It means there will probably a lot less NASA channel which should translate to less disagreements about programming on the TV. Henceforth our home shall be known as Tranquility Base.

As I listened to the official NASA broadcast, there was a lot of talk about “30 years.” 1981 – 2011. That’s how long the shuttle program flew.

It was all very sentimental. That’s a feeling I can understand. I grew up with the things, too.

I was thinking about it when a thought occurred to me. The space shuttle is, stripped down, just another form of transportation. And that is something that really seems to fascinate us.

Of course, a space shuttle isn’t your typical form of transportation. It is extremely dangerous. There were 135 space shuttle missions during those 30 years and two accidents. That’s a failure rate of about 1.5 percent. I really thought about this. In exchange for a trip into space would you be willing to accept those odds?

Just Popped Down to the Pub to Play the PokiesTransportation is fascinating to us humans. Each advancement makes the world seem smaller. From the time we are small children one of our most cherished playthings is the toy car. Hot Wheels, trucks, Tonka, boats, airplanes, motorcycles – you name it. The power of something that moves us from Point A to Point B really captures our imaginations.

At some level I think the space shuttle represented the ultimate expression of our fascination with transportation.

When it comes to existence, you have two choices. Stay where you are or be on the move. More often than not, it seems we prefer the latter. Apparently “there” is better than “here.” The ability to get to “there” is highly desirable.

All transportation is inherently dangerous. The act of moving from one place to another entails some risk. The amount of that risk depends on the method of transportation.

Staying in one place, though, can also kill you. You can be seated and still die from some random event. An engine could fall off a jet aircraft and land on top of you. A tree could fall on your house. A gas main could explode.

Clearly staying in one spot is dangerous. Maybe you should get up and move somewhere else? Do that, though, and you’ll be engaging in the act of transportation and your odds will go up. Even if you just use your own feet to travel across the room. You could trip on a piece of Berber carpet, fall and die. That’s transportation for you. It’s a risky business.

Tom’s Law #42

Staying in one place can kill you. Moving only increases the risk.

I’m not kidding about this. I searched for statistics on this and found that the odds of dying from a fall within your lifetime (for U.S. residents) is about 1 in 246.

A “motor vehicle accident” is even worse at 1 in 100. And, proving the old adage that it is statistically safer to fly, the odds of dying from “air travel accident” is 1 in 20,000.

I was unable to find any specific stats regarding “the odds of accidental death while in a non-transportation mode” but I assume they are even smaller.

Clearly flying in a space shuttle is very dangerous business. Still, if I was offered the chance, I’d jump at it. How about you? Does knowing the odds make a difference?

Now, this post may seem weird. The segue from space shuttle to odds of dying might not seem to make sense, but that’s just the way my train of thought went. (By the way, the lifetime odds of dying in a train accident are 1 in 65,870.)

For comparison, here are some other odds (lifetime risk for U.S. population):

Heart disease: 1-in-5
Cancer: 1-in-7
Stroke: 1-in-23
Accidental Injury: 1-in-36
Motor Vehicle Accident: 1-in-100
Intentional Self-Harm: 1-in-121
Falling Down: 1-in-246
Assault by Firearm: 1-in-325
Fire or Smoke: 1-in-1,116
Natural Forces (heat, cold, storms, quakes, etc.): 1-in-3,357
Electrocution: 1-in-5,000
Drowning: 1-in-8,942
Air Travel Accident: 1-in-20,000
Flood (included also in Natural Forces above): 1-in-30,000
Legal Execution: 1-in-58,618
Tornado (included also in Natural Forces above): 1-in-60,000
Lightning Strike (included also in Natural Forces above): 1-in-83,930
Snake, Bee or other Venomous Bite or Sting: 1-in-100,000
Earthquake (included also in Natural Forces above): 1-in-131,890
Dog Attack: 1-in-147,717
Asteroid Impact: 1-in-200,000
Tsunami: 1-in-500,000
Fireworks Discharge: 1-in-615,488

I think it’s obvious now why I hate fireworks so much, eh? Unfortunately the data doesn’t indicate how many deaths from fire were the result of asshole fireworks, so that number might even be worse!

“Mobility device” didn’t make the list. It must be included in “motor vehicle accident.” Still, those things can be dangerous, too. After all, they are a form of transportation. Case in point: The other day a mobility device was using the sidewalk to traverse a local bridge. The wheels slipped over the curb, the mobility device toppled into the road, and the operator was struck in the head by a car. Now that is risk!

So we love transportation. And it’s risky. Perhaps the explains the sentimentalism regarding things like our cars, planes, big ships and even the space program. When things go well we feel a sense of relief and gratitude. “She sure was a good ship.” Or a good space shuttle.

This is Tranquility Base signing off. Whether you stay still or decide to transport, we pray that you will be safe. God bless us, every one.

6 responses

  1. I love statistics. Especially when it can justify your hopes and dreams. Maybe they’ll bring back a shuttle just for you. 🙂


    1. You get me, you really get me. 🙂

      I heard the future of space flight may include the capsule again. NASA has been working on a new design. All I can say is they better hurry up and get me in there!


  2. After reading this post I’ll forever think of you as Tom “Risk” Taker. 🙂


    1. Yes, there are certain times when acceptable risks should be taken. Like throwing yourself into a jet engine. Risk is my middle name!


  3. Good post — I think there is something about the act of “going” — something hopeful, something expectant. I love road trips — and definitely believe that “half the fun is getting there”.

    I would have never guessed that I was more likely to die from falling down than by getting shot. Though maybe they’ve figured out how clumsy I am…


    1. The things we “fear” the most don’t always have a rational basis in regards to probability. We fear things like shark attacks way more than we ever fear falling down. There was an excellent TED talk about this phenomenon in regards to how we manage our personal security.

      I agree that “transportation” is universally fun and appealing to us humans.


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