The Observant Astronomer

The passing scene as observed by an observant Jew, who daylights as an astronomer.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Robots and Men in Space

In a comment to the previous post, rebeljew writes:

I read in Robert Park's newsletter "What's New" that it will only save 4.5M, but that the administration is looking to apply more budget to the manned Moon/Mars initiatives. He feels that is an ill devised scheme as he does not think manned missions will yield anything worth the costs. Agree?

The manned vs. robotic debate is one of long standing.
In terms of science return, it's pretty clear that robotic missions give more bang for the buck. They may be more limited, but they are much cheaper. After all, you don't have to protect fragile lifeforms if you send a robot, and you certainly don't have to worry about bringing it back.

The main benefit of manned missions is the flexibility inherent in having people there. But this has never really been demonstrated that strongly since the only manned exploration missions were the Apollo series, and they were certainly aimed more at politics than science. After all, only a small fraction of moon walkers were trained scientists. It isn't clear that the current proposal isn't more of the same sort of boondoggle.

That said, there is something to be said for a manned space infrastructure. As Robert A. Heinlein famously wrote, "Once you get to Earth orbit, you're halfway to anywhere in the solar system." The problem is that the further implementation of this concept is probably better defined in the science fiction literature than in either the President's or NASA's current visions. We were supposed to already be past this stage by now. Something went wrong somewhere, and the initials SS are a hint.


Blogger Rebeljew said...

So we should send manned missions but make sure that the astronauts carry M&Ms?

1:02 PM, June 12, 2005  

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