Jon, I'm a bit disappointed. What got me into technology in the first place was the science-fiction I read as a kid (starting well before Sputnik). I dreamed of being the first man on the moon... not of being the first man to see the video the robot sent back. I grew up with the "space race." Astronauts were my heroes. I turned 20 a short time before the first moon landing... and astronauts were still my heroes, though I'd given up the dream of joining them.
We are lagging in science and technology - not in our higher educational institutions: we turn out some of the best scientists and technologists in the world. Then most of them go back to their native countries. The lag is in getting American kids interested at an early age - and young kids need heroes and they need big dreams. And that is probably the best reason to press forward with manned space flight.
It is pathetic how NASA and scientific research are held up as the Gold Standard and raison d'ętre for any off-earth mission. I call BS that! Let SpaceX and its like dictate the future, not the bloated inefficient NASA or underfunded boffins. Humans suffer solar-ion damage and their bones dissolve in low-gee? Give the free-market pharmaceutical multinationals beaucoup incentives to develop space-medicine drugs to prevent or repair such damage, instead of working on yet another antidepressant or impotence drug. This is not higher math-- appeal to the existing greed of the typical corporate sociopath CEOs and boards, and stop whining about "underpaid" scientists and school teachers.
Sending people into space is an absolute must for any society that considers itself a spacefaring nation. Sending robots into space is also a must. There is a place for both.
The mission(s) to refurbish Hubble are prime examples of needing people in space. The state of robotics is just not there yet. Also, the ability to think and react in real time is also critical for certain missions (it takes a lot of time for the EM waves to go back and forth the distances for these missions). In that sense, the state of AI is also just not there, yet. Those are both technological reasons to keep people in space, but there are also the collateral benefits to a countries economy and technological health (as the US benefitted from after Apollo).
There is also the political and social element to consider. There is a hump a society goes over when it makes that investment (and commitment) into manned flight. Once a nation has made that commitment, funding for un-manned flight (unrelated to the manned missions) is a given. If a nation gives up on manned flight, those monies do NOT automatically go into un-manned flight. In fact, I'd argue that the funding for unmanned flight would dry up quickly (other than missions to put satellites into Earth orbit).
There is much more to this discussion than simple technical reasons. There are economic, political (both national and international), and psychological benefits to manned space flight. Giving manned space flight up and leaving it to the Russians and Chinese will be the first step on a quick slide into 2nd or 3rd world status for the US. What a depressing, short sighted mistake that would be.
You didn't present a good argument for sending people into space, Ervin. None of the experiments or goals you list require humans in space. Societies do not progress by accumulating knowledge but by applying it. Certainly we can justify some "far out" research, but what value or applicability do we find in the recently uncovered Higgs boson? Answer: None. This project became welfare for physicists and equipment manufacturers. Thankfully the US suspended the Super Collider years ago. I'd rather see research into insect-resistant crops, ways to purify water, cures for diseases, and so on; things that have a good chance of yielding answers to existing Earth-bound problems.
If we want to colonize other planets and it takes us hundreds of thousands of yesrs, then there's no rush to "gear up" for human on-site exploration in the next thousand years or so. In the meantime (now) send robots.
Humans might enjoy the experience of being on Mars, for example, but they will not enjoy the process of getting there (and far worse for further places like Ganymede). If they do get there sane and healthy, they will not be able to perform a fraction of the practical work a robot explorer can do for a fraction of the cost.
Humans are designed for use on Earth, and can manage in near-Earth situations with special equipment. We are not suited to go beyond the Moon.
Already we have carried out hugely productive exploration on the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, long before we can even set foot on our ow Moon again.
Your vision is short sighted. Granted we want to learn about the universe and in the near term unmanned expeditions suffice, but the ultimate goal is to colonize other planets. It may not be for hundreds or thousands of years but it is the only solution to "lebensraum".
I have to disagree. Slowing down research in the namesake of saving money is not the way. Here is a disconnected list of reasons why reducing any research funding in sciences is bad. Humans in space are a must. There is an endless list of reasons of why we need humans in space. And humans correcting design errors or compensating for machine failure is one of the minor reasons of why we need humans in space.
Reason 1: Lack of gravity for prolonged periods of time has introduced an endless list of questions. Can it be used to our advantage? Can it harm us? If this harms us in what are the results? How to avoid its harm? let's face it earth has a limited Surface area and even if we burrow deep, build the highest sky rises, and continue in killing each other with wars, unfortunate diseases etc., eventually we most likely will populate earth to system collapse. Space might hold a key to our millennia problems.
Reason 2: We explore space today so that we can migrate outward from earth. Eventually you need to send a human there to get a detailed report from a humans perspective. Human perspective is an important aspect of exploration.
Some more facts about research in general.
Fact: We already do what you claim. There are countless missions of cheap 1lb robots being launched yearly that roam our solar system in hopes of bringing a small piece of knowledge back. It's cheaper, people have thought of this quite a while ago, and it has its limitations as a practice. It suffices for far reaching places. We can complete our research for zero gravity here on our own little world. However where do you go to experiment at say 1/3rd gravity? I have just the place for you "Mars". What if having ~3.7m/s/s is enough to remove all the risks of living in lower gravity? What if this gigantic planet can be used as a source of materials as well as habitat? Do we dismiss this for the sake of saving money and remaining ignorant?
Fact: A societies worth is measured by its knowledge and its advances. We invest so much in military, social, and securities, yet we see budget cut after budget cut in academia and research. What's the point? Has anyone ever wondered why America's high school teachers are the least qualified people to teach? (Just a guess maybe lack of funding and extremely low wages?) While NASA has been a money pit some aspects of NASA (actually needed research) are being held up or completely shut down in the name of saving the budget when our armed forces still purchase million dollar hammers.
So no I don't agree with this logic. Keep in mind that while this may make no sense to you now it will be valuable to the society we leave behind. The reason we have the tech we so much enjoy is mostly due to very persistent physicists that fought so hard for the pennies they needed to complete their research. Even to date if you walk into an engineering lab in any college you see tools aimlessly lying around. Walk into a physics lab and everything is treasured. I was a physics lab tech for a little over a year and you cannot comprehend the lack of money, and the amount of work accomplished with that lack of money. While their toys are far more expensive than most engineering lab o-scopes they still lack equipment. You have to understand that to advance science you have to force engineering to advance to or wait for engineering to advance. So far our research has been in a waiting stance due to lack of money. Place funds in this society and you will quickly find advances similar to those in ww1 and ww2. While the intentions were wrong during that era they had the right idea. Invest in science because let's face it while engineering pays now science makes up for it in sheer force of invention later. Also always the chicken came before the Egg. Knowledge (aka Science) came before engineering. As we progress attaining new insight in our complex universe requires more effort and more funding this is true however the implications of this new found knowledge and its returns have yet to diminish. So if the returns to science are still there why slow down the funding or completely cut it?
Not so. No shortage of volunteers for semi-suicide missions. With the budget and schedule for one man mission NASA can field about 10 robotic missions, and theres little they can't do that a human can in the way of scientific exploration, so it's not difficult to calculate the best return on investment. NASA objectives are science based, not Hollywood style drama and excitement. That bit they do just to getthe budgets approved. Did the Apollo astronauts achive anything, other than showmanship, that couldn't be done with robots?
What a bunch of strutless, gutless wimps! Just post a billboard "Astronauts Wanted (space suit provided)" down Sturgis way, and you'd have a line five miles long of those rough & ready types wanting to try their hand at space-jockeying.
Obviously it's not about finding Real Men willing to personally undertake work in space. The problems are leaving the decision-making to nurturing, low-testosterone or Viagra types, and that after fifty years space exploration should be reduced to twiddling a mouse before a screen. You want risk-free, go home and leave the fun to us who want to actually do something real.
Just privatize and incentivize the space program, shut down NASA, and pull the teeth of the lawyers who want to $ue everytime some space jockey buys the farm.
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