"Silicon Valley tells you that failure is an option," she added. "It's a great option. You should do it fast. You should do it often. Risk is a tool for growth and innovation."
The limits of risk
While some may look to new technologies to better manage risk, Rick Davis, NASA's assistant director for science and exploration, said he was schooled in this line of thinking during a three-and-a-half-year assignment to work with the Russian space agency, Roscosmos.
"When you go there, what you see is them using technology that literally, maybe, [cosmonaut] Yuri Gagarin used [in the 1960s]," he said, adding that some people might be inclined to think, "Oh my God; that's backwards." But using the same technology for 50 years is not only cheaper (in some cases) but also demonstrates a robustness of technologies that have been tested in spaceflight that the U.S. space program could learn from, he said.
NASA has learned quite a bit about space travel since the 1960s, of course, but there are still some wrinkles to be worked out. A big one, Davis said, is logistics. The ISS depends on regular cargo shipments of food, water and supplies — an arrangement that would be impractical for a Mars mission. (Journeys to Mars would take six to eight months, according to current estimates, and launches must occur when Earth and Mars align favorably, which happens only about every 18 months.)