That's what the peanut gallery is saying today. Sam Dinkin provides an excellent rebuff with this piece.
Shuttle Risks being played down? It seems to me more like a risk adverse culture at NASA that seems to be the problem.
Sam Dinkin asks the question why are Astronauts lives more heavily valued than soldiers in Iraq? Well the answer is simple: publicity. When a soldier is killed in Iraq people hear of it as a brief report at the end of the evening news. When an Astronaut gets killed within moments CNN is broadcasting live coverage, and even Canadian TV gets bombarded with the morbid details.
When a fatality occurs in an automobile nobody cares. When an Astronaut dies it becomes a national crisis.
The current failure rate for the Shuttle is 1.7% (2 failures in 113 flights). Many compare this to Commercial airliner failure rates unfairly. First of all space travel is still no where near as routine as commercial airline travel. And second, the first pioneers to go on ships and travel across the Atlantic were probably given less favorable odds of surviving than 98.3% with all the risk of disease, malnutrition, and storms. They were taking a risk. And that's what NASA is supposed to do.
Also commercial airliners have a lower fatality rate than Automobiles do as far as I know. Why the difference? Because when a commercial jet crashes the entire country knows about it because hundreds of people die all in one day. When hundreds of people die over a year in car crashes it doesn't get the media exposure. In other words it doesn't sell newspapers.