If you get killed, at least you won’t know it.

In some cases, Americans are willing to take risks even if no corrective measures are possible. This has been particularly evident in Americans’ willingness to risk death during air and spacecraft testing and early use.

Apollo engineer Jerry Woodfill once said “Among the early space missions, I’ve always believed that the greatest courage was needed by their first crews. Whether it was Al Shepard, the Apollo 1 crew, or shuttle astronauts John Young or Bob Crippen, the most likely danger would be the first time any new space craft was launched into space. Flaws in design or manufacture could very well be fatal during maiden missions.”

American Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier, once said “It’s your duty to fly the airplane. If you get killed in it, you don’t know anything anyway.”

Some examples of Americans who knew they were risking death to go into space include:

On April 13, 1970, two days after its launch, an oxygen tank aboard the Apollo 13 spacecraft exploded. 

This led to a desperate attempt for the astronauts to return to earth alive – one that nearly didn’t succeed. Less than a year later, despite having just witnessed an almost-fatal mission, the Apollo 14 spacecraft launched with three crewmembers on board.

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after lift-off, killing all seven crew members on board. However, prior to the launch, the astronauts were warned that some of the engineers were worried about the effect of unusually low temperatures on the seals for the solid rocket boosters. 

Although they were not told the extent of the engineers’ concerns, they were warned that launching on January 28th would be more dangerous than waiting for the next available launch date, and asked if they wanted to postpone. All seven decided that their mission was worth the risk of launching on schedule.