Robert Zubrin asks that question in the February Issue of Reason Magazine. Specifically, while acknowledging that astronaut’s lives are precious, he asks whether NASA is correct to insist that space exploration be as safe as possible:
There is a potentially unlimited set of testing procedures, precursor missions, technological improvements, and other protective measures that could be implemented before allowing human beings to once again try flying to other worlds. Were we to adopt all of them, we would wind up with a human spaceflight program of infinite cost and zero accomplishment. In recent years, the trend has moved precisely in that direction…
There are accepted methodologies to establish the value of a human life. With a value assigned, resources can be assigned rationally, and mission risk can be evaluated objectively. In short, one can determine if a potential sacrifice is “worth it”.
Readers know that In the Shadow of Ares deals with the issue of astronaut sacrifice. What is important, Zubrin argues, is that those that risk their lives do so in furtherance of missions that have real value.
Someting like, er, a mission to Mars.