Space Robotics

Humans vs Robots in Space

Posted 20 Aug 2006 at 01:22 UTC by steve Share This

According to an article by Mark Whittington, the recent death of James Van Allen, an opponent of humans spaceflight, has put the long-standing controversy over whether humans should be allowed to take part in space exploration. Opponents of allowing humans in space such as van Allen, believe the only purpose for space exploration is to collect data which will be returned to Earth. They believe robots are better and cheaper at it than humans. Supporters of space travel, such as the late Carl Sagan usually have a very different view of why we go into space; not only to collect data but as explorers and eventually to find new places to live, assuring the survival of the human race. Bush's recent support of space exploration, at least in a political sense if not in reality, seems to have spurred many anti-Bush people to join the anti-humans-in-space camp, claiming it's a waste of money. The article notes that controversy has always been more about politics than science. Hopefully private efforts at getting humans into to space will render the issue mute eventually, allowing humans and robots to explore the galaxy side-by-side.

Is it "can I" or "may I" when it comes to space?, posted 20 Aug 2006 at 01:42 UTC by tbenedict » (Master)

The wording of that made me smile. Am I allowed to play in space, mom? Except for regulatory bodies like the FAA, there's not much to stop anyone from exploring space any way they choose, provided they have the funding and political backing to get the job done.

A good case in point is Spaceship One, a private effort to put humans in space. Another set of cases are the various amateur radio satellites that have been boosted into orbit. I'm not sure this debate reared its head in either instance.

As for where to put our funding, good question. It's easier to make a large number of inexpensive robotic missions than it is to make a single mission with humans. I'd be surprised if automated probes ever disappear from the project list of any space agency. I'd be equally surprised to see human presence in space disappear. It may not be logical, but it does seem to be a part of our nature to flip over the rock, find out what's there, and explore it without asking for permission first.

Private parties yes,Nasa no., posted 20 Aug 2006 at 13:03 UTC by marev » (Observer)

Humans should be allowed into space of course in private groups if they have take money and ability but it costs nasa far more both in supporting people up there and when disasters happen,so for real progres let it all be robots exploring and getting information.

2nd, posted 20 Aug 2006 at 13:18 UTC by marev » (Observer)

We have gone a bit further than the days when People had to go anywhere in space and land on new planets and everyone here had to watch them taking big steps on it,just send the robots with vid cams for it.

3rd, posted 20 Aug 2006 at 18:25 UTC by marev » (Observer)

I beleive humans need to be robotically adapted in order to live in any part of space and on other planets easily,not humans having to find another planet through searching the universe,one that can sustain lifeforms and human population naturally.

And yet..., posted 20 Aug 2006 at 21:08 UTC by tbenedict » (Master)

And yet China is now stepping up their space program with the aim of putting a human on the moon. Past the day when someone needs to set foot on a planet and say, "I was here"? Apparently not.

Please understand I'm playing devil's advocate here. Personally I think the contribution of automated probes to our understanding of the universe is stupendous. If people insisted on having a human presence in every space endeavor we'd still be waiting to see what the shores of Titan look like. For that matter we'd still be waiting to see what the rings of Saturn are, what the surface of Io is like, what the nucleus of an active comet is like, etc. Our first-hand (so to speak) understanding of planetary astronomy would begin and end with Earth and its moon.

Besides, the design problems involved in putting an automated probe into space are way way too cool to ignore. Want a fun Google session? Look up the ice drill ideas that are being explored for Europa. That is some fantastic engineering. Trade that in for the drilling scene from Armageddon? Not on your life. (Besides, that approach would violate the mission specs.)

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