> The system failed. People failed. But we knew this would happen, and we did it anyway because it's the price of exploring the frontiers. ... you might say the bloated organization and government involvement makes this sort of thing inevitable. But I bet the small privateers exploring manned space flight will run into their own challenges.
I bet they will do better, and go farther. They will know a disaster like that will likely ruin their company, so they will make damn sure that the communication process between managers and engineers doesn't break down, and that the process complexity is kept in check.
You're describing (and excusing) a bloated and dysfunctional system that sprang up around the need to manage the complexity of the space shuttle. People tried to fix the organization after Challenger, but the fact that Linda Ham stopped the request for imagery as described by CAIB shows that they failed or it reverted. And as your attitude shows, there is a bit of a fatalist perspective ("bloated organization and government involvement"). In the long term, it has to be fixed, or stuff will keep blowing up.
I'm not excusing it. And my hope is that you are correct on the smaller, leaner private launches. (I suspect, however, that they will kill some people too, and sadly, those people may not be as aware of the risks as astronauts are).
Some day, NASA will likely be seen as strange and primitive. That insanely high risk of death is the current state of the art, however. It will get worked out of the system over a very long period of time - but only if we don't lose the nerve to launch these things because someone might die.
How many people died crossing oceans back in the day because someone screwed up? Shit - they still die on ships, and in cars and in planes. Space ships are going to blow up, crash, and fail. It's just life.
It's interesting that you mention planes. Boeing and Airbus (with FAA's help I guess) have figured out a way to build astonishingly safe planes. Yes, their systems are simpler and get a lot more use, but the fact that there has been exactly one hull loss for a 777 with no fatalities in 20 years with 1000 planes might also be telling us something about them getting the organization right.
A safe 777 is hard to build, but a safe orbiter is an order of magnitude harder, with respect to the range of velocity, temperature, and pressure that the vehicle endures.
It's not a totally fair comparison to say "Boeing can do it, why can't NASA and their contractors"
With current technology, it seems obvious that if we want to (further) develop manned spaceflight, we should launch unmanned orbiters with crash-test dummies and telepresence surrogates, and keep doing so until we've established a safety record.