Risk and Exploration

Avalanches: Beauty, Wonder, and Danger - with video (May 2009)

Keith's note: There was a huge avalanche at Everest yesterday. So far it seems that 12 people were killed - all Sherpa guides. They were walking up the Khumu Icefall on their way to work. This (link above) is what Scott Parazynski and I witnessed in May 2009. At the time this was described as being a very, very big avalanche for Everest. As such, I can only imagine what yesterday's fatal avalanche at Everest looked like. No one was injured in the avalanche in this video.

Massive Avalanche Over The Lower Khumbu Icefall - with video (May 2009)

As I watched this equally huge avalanche (link above) a week later I was almost certain that Scott was in it. We did not know for a while if he was. As it happened Scott and Danuru Sherpa climbed fast and were above the Khumbu icefall when it happened. But Scott's climbing partner Rejean and his sherpa Dawa were caught in it. Dawa's quick thinking saved Rejean's life. Alas, one Sherpa guide was lost in this avalanche. It was a curious existence at Everest Base Camp. I awoke every morning to see the Khumbu Icefall outside my tent flap - calm and serene and always an instant away from becoming deadly. You get used to this - and then again you don't.

NASA has its risks and tragedies as well. That said it is always - odd - to watch both cultures (climbing and space) deal with risk. The similarities in risks are often eerily similar yet the ways that the risks are dealt with is often utterly different. FYI I noted this disaprity a decade ago and this led to the Risk and Exploration Symposium that John Grunsfeld and I put together for NASA in 2004. By coincidence, John Grunsfeld was in orbit while Scott and I were at Everest.

Life is very fragile - even for the strongest of climbers - or the most skilled astronauts. But that doesn't mean that all risks should be avoided. Many simply need to be confronted. The risks need to be understood and dealt with in a way that safeguards people while still allowing adventure and exploration to continue. Exploration is a risky endeavour - by definition.

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on April 18, 2014 11:45 AM.

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