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The term “go fever” is used in the space industry to describe a push to finish a project, sometimes at the cost of safety. A lot of things contribute to this phenomenon, such as pressure from government officials to achieve a goal or a genuine desire to see a project through to completion no matter what problems are encountered, but it can have dangerous consequences. For the United States' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), some more spectacular examples of the cost of go fever include the Apollo One fire, the near loss of Apollo 13, the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger and the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia.
Go fever certainly is not unique to the space industry; many industries experience similar pressure to complete projects, and when paired with a willingness to overlook dangers and safety concerns, the result can sometimes be tragic. The space industry perhaps illustrates go fever more prominently than other industries because of the wide interest in space and in getting people into space; decades after humans first landed on the moon, people eagerly follow the launch of spacecraft and hail astronauts as heroes. The loss of spacecraft is not simply viewed as a setback to the space industry, it is treated as a national loss.
Agencies such as NASA have made an attempt to guard themselves against go fever. Before the launch of any spacecraft, an extensive team evaluates the situation, and the launch might be canceled if the team has concerns. The pressure to go through with the launch anyway, however, can be quite intense. Launch schedules are extremely complicated, and a decision to scratch a launch can result in disrupted schedules for months or years to come. The decision to cancel a launch also is expensive, and this can be another factor in go fever.
Some people use the rush to the moon in the 1960s to illustrate go fever at its height. The moon race was made even more complex because it was bound up in Cold War rivalries between the United States and the Soviet Union, and when U.S. president John F. Kennedy declared that humans would be walking on the moon within the decade in the early 1960s, the pressure was on. Many scientists and other professionals worked overtime for years so that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could step onto the moon in 1969.
One of the best ways for people to guard against go fever in any industry is to set up several independent teams to assess a project at various stages. At each stage, these teams should ensure that the project is still safe and practical. By isolating the teams from each other and from pressure from above, people can be assured that it is safe to proceed on a project with an ambitious goal.
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