Monday, July 18, 2011

The Challenge of Not Dying

I have made a list of classes of things that can kill a person.  In our technological future it would be nice if these things were kept to a minimum.
  1. Temperature Extremes
  2. Pressure Extremes
  3. Acceleration Extremes
  4. Radiation Exposure
  5. Impacts - Penetrating, Crushing, Shearing
  6. Electrocution
  7. Chemical Exposure - Acids / Alkalis, Solvents
  8. Respiratory Failure - Hypoxia / Drowning, Poisons
  9. Starvation - Improper Food, Vitamins, Micro Nutrients, Poisons
  10. Pathogens - Bacteria, Viruses

Replicator Technology should allow us to create objects needed to guard against these dangers and should not accidentally introduce any of these things into our environment.

On April 14, 1912, a clear, moonless night in the north Atlantic ocean with unusually calm seas, impact with an iceberg fractured hull plates and rivets made brittle by the frigid water leading to the loss of the RMS Titanic and the deaths of 1,517 people.

On May 24, 1993, Joe Bill Dryden, one of the most knowledgeable and experienced F-16 test pilots in the world took a brand new, properly performing, aircraft on a clear day over level terrain and performed a Split-S maneuver into the ground. He ejected safely, but his parachute descended through the resulting fireball and he was killed by the impact.

On January 28, 1986, hot gasses leaking past a redundant pair of frozen o-rings on the right solid rocket booster weakened the supporting structure and ruptured the external tank of the space shuttle Challenger seventy-three seconds after liftoff. The $1.2 billion spacecraft and its payload were destroyed and all seven astronauts were killed.

On February 23, 2008, at Andersen Air Force base in Guam, water intrusion into three of twenty four skin-flush air-data sensors caused faulty air speed and attitude information to be sent to the flight control computers of the B2 stealth bomber Spirit of Kansas, leading to a crash immediately after takeoff. The two pilots ejected safely, but the $1.4 billion aircraft was destroyed.

On March 27, 1977, at Los Rodeos Airport on Tenerife in the Canary Islands, the KLM Boeing 747 Rijn piloted by Captain Jacob Veldhuyzen van Zanten, head of KLM’s flight training department, began takeoff without proper clearance and collided with the Pan Am Boeing 747 Clipper Victor taxiing in the opposite direction on the runway. Both aircraft were destroyed and 583 people were killed.

I have used these boxes to describe disasters caused by reality reaching out and grabbing the unwary. The world is not a safe place. Mortality or extinction may be closer than even the most paranoid realize. It is also true that when people are very good at what they do, and are very careful, it is possible to achieve virtually unimaginable things.

I once visited the McDonald farmhouse at the Trinity Test Site near Alamogordo, New Mexico. This is an uninsulated wooden, pier-and-beam house typical of the early twentieth century. I could look down through the cracks between the floor boards and see the dirt below.

In this house, in 1945, the absolute top scientists of their day, given the essentially unlimited resources of the Manhattan Project, gathered to hand-assemble the world’s first atomic bomb.

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