The debate over human vs robot space exploration continues. The last time this issue made news was in 2006 with the death of long time opponent of human space exploration, James Van Allen. Opponents argue that the only purpose of space exploration is to return data to Earth, something they argue can be done by robots more cost effectively than by humans. No one seriously argues that robots should not explore space and there is a long history of successful robotic space exploration. Proponents of human exploration simply disagree that robots alone are sufficient. The latest dust up occurred recently with Stephen Hawking's call for Human colonies on the Moon and Mars. The point Hawking makes is that robotic exploration doesn't expand the human race beyond the planet Earth:
"Robotic missions are much cheaper and may provide more scientific information, but they don't catch the public imagination in the same way, and they don't spread the human race into space, which I'm arguing should be our long-term strategy. If the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before."
Hawking points out that if we devote only one quarter of one percent of the world's GDP toward space exploration and colonization, it would give us a budget 20 times that currently allocated to the International Space Station. One problem may be NASA itself. Scientists within the agency itself have argued that NASA's current human space flight program is an expensive, misguided boondoggle. Now the Obama administration has intervened and may force them to drop Ares to work on a more sensible alternative to get humans back into space. Meanwhile, space robots soldier on. The Japanese Kaguya probe recorded it's final approach to a Lunar impact and the NASA LRO, pictured above, was successfully launched days ago and started it journey towards the Moon.