More humans-vs-robots

Apparently the confluence of the return of Stardust and the impending launch of New Horizons touched a few more nerves than just the Des Moines Register, as noted here yesterday. The Seattle Times compares the risks and benefits of human and robotic spaceflight:

Opportunities and dangerous initiatives beyond human limits reinforce concerns about sending human explorers into ever-more complex missions. In recent years, the Space Shuttle program downshifted into potentially dangerous resupply runs with vague scientific rationales.

Manned space flight has political and emotional limitations that do not burden the efforts of [Stardust principal investigator Don] Brownlee and his colleagues. There are financial limitations, to be sure, but nothing relaxes the purse strings like success.

As Earthlings argue the merits of human space travel, more and more work like Stardust can be undertaken; that’s another achievement of this successful mission.

The Berkshire (Mass.) Eagle is even more critical, claiming that 2006 could be remembered as “the year the unmanned space program peaked and began a rapid descent unless Washington and NASA get their spending priorities in order”:

Washington has been generous to NASA of late, but typically, it has put off tough choices. The space shuttles, patched together like old Chevys, are being kept around to serve the International Space Station, which is too far along to abandon though it has no purpose. A new shuttle program is in the planning stages, and Congress has ponied up money to get President Bush’s pointless manned program to the moon and Mars under way. At some point something will have to be cut, and there is reason to fear that the unmanned effort will be sacrificed at the altar of the much pricier, and much more problematic, manned program.

The Washington Times also weighs in on the contrast between robotic and human space exploration, although not without the same degree of negativity as its counterparts above:

The combined cost of these three missions [Stardust, Deep Impact, and New Horizons] is about $1.3 billion, or just around the average cost of a single shuttle mission. That’s still not exactly cheap, but the contrast should be considered as NASA struggles to justify the shuttle’s relevance (especially when the success of a shuttle mission, at least to the general public, is determined by whether all astronauts return safely).

More importantly, robots should not be hogging all the glory. NASA must expedite the shuttle’s phaseout and get to the business of realizing the president’s goal of putting a man on Mars.

19 comments to More humans-vs-robots

  • Space policy is an Alice-in-Wonderland world. The mainstream media wants to prioritize spending, while the right-wing Washington Times wants big government. To their credit, they don’t want the status quo of big government at NASA, but they do want to replace it with new big government.

    Or maybe it’s not so upside-down. Maybe the right doesn’t really mind big government, as long as the money is spent in a rightist fashion. (And as long as Washington borrows instead of spending tax money.)

  • Mike Puckett

    No, the left wing media use the unmanned exploration meme as a ‘stalking horse’ to divide an conquer. The have no true intrest in saving, only ultimately spending it on social welfare vote buying schemes.

  • And, yet again, no discussion whatever of the potential for commercial human spaceflight. Besides potential space missions requiring military troops someday in the future, the government should not operate launch vehicles with OR without humans aboard. Space advocate though I am, I do not want my tax monies going to the Shuttle program. I do, however, want it to go into prize money designed to foster innovation in aerospace. I also want it to go to the Department of Commerce Office of Space Commercialization, which is currently a joke. Finally, I want NASA closed down and replaced with two NACA-type institutions, one for aeronautical R&D and the other for astronautical R&D. All science missions should go to NAS, with NOAA retaining the Earth monitoring missions.

  • Oh, and the ISS should be seen as a nucleus for commercial activity. While the nature of commercial activity using ISS may not be clear to many right now, the free market system has a funny way of figurign these things out on its own.

  • I find the use of the word “pointless” in reference to human missions to Earth’s moon and Mars very interesting. Somehow, it is “pointless” to send a scientist to the moon, but it is valuable to send a robot. This makes no sense. To say that sending a human scientist costs too much is a valid argument, but if one is “pointless” they both are, and we should save all of our money and not send anything to the moon or Mars.

    — Donald

  • Yes, Mike, liberal commie robots, they are everywhere.

  • Mike: Either you’re against big government or you aren’t. It is quite clear from Tom DeLay’s statements that the VSE is big government patronage &mdash DeLay hardly even tries to hide it. (To be sure, DeLay mostly wants shuttle and station money, because there is more of it than CEV money, but he lumps it all together as the VSE.) It is exactly the sort of “vote buying welfare” that you profess to be against.

  • Either you’re against big government or you aren’t.

    This is a rather extreme position. I, personally, believe in what the British call a “mixed” economy: private enterprise is good at some things; government is good at others. Scratch the surface and most American’s believe this too (I don’t see anyone clamoring to pay the full true cost of driving or flying). The real question (especially in space politics right now) is where to draw the line.

    — Donald

  • Where to draw the line around big government? That question has been answered. You draw it like this.

  • Mike Puckett

    “Mike: Either you’re against big government or you aren’t. It is quite clear from Tom DeLay’s statements that the VSE is big government patronage &mdash DeLay hardly even tries to hide it. (To be sure, DeLay mostly wants shuttle and station money, because there is more of it than CEV money, but he lumps it all together as the VSE.) It is exactly the sort of “vote buying welfare” that you profess to be against.”

    And you are trying to laud the ‘MSM’ for advocation cutting manned spaceflight as equalling ‘not big government’ when they are merely robbing Peter to pay Paul.

    If my tax dollars must be confiscated, let it be on something with a sliver of a chance of advancing human spaceflight. Not pretty pictures for a handfull clique of astronomers or welfare spending that reinforces negative work ethics and dependancies on government by large numbers or our population.

  • Mike Puckett

    “Yes, Mike, liberal commie robots, they are everywhere.”

    Still buiding strawmen and not rockets I see there Thomas.

  • Mike, some of us (infact, anyone who has legemitly analyzed it) would argue that the MSM, or traditional media, have gone off the deep end to support the extreme Right. But, be that as it may, and I honestly don’t want to drag this into a debate about the leanings of the media, I reiterate – we need to start talking about Space Colonization, any time anyone starts asking why we are talking about manned flights. Its just that simple. Even if they look at us like we are crazy. (I could make a comment here, but I won’t)

  • I will. To think that these liberal commie scientists would build liberal commie robots to bring liberal commie comet stuff back to the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, for God’s sake! It’s just blasphemous!

    Seriously though, we’ll just have to wait it out and pick up the pieces when it’s all over. The SCHTICK is going nowhere, we’ll have pictures of Pluto before we land a man on the moon. Oops, I forgot, we already landed a man on the moon, didn’t we.

    I’m just waiting around for the whole shebang to collapse, so that private industry can build a space colonization friendly SSTO/RLV out of the remaining SSMEs.

  • David Davenport

    Even if they look at us like we are crazy.

    You are.

  • I know, it’s just insane. Horseless carriages, flying machines, moon rockets, personal computers.

    Yes, space colonization is total nonsense.

  • David, I suspect your comment mighta been tongue in cheek, but if it wasn’t, and you do support manned flight, I really suggest you re-examine your thoughts and arguements – the only reason to support a sustain human presence in space is space colonization. Otherwise, I think we should just use robotic missions. be a lot simplier and cheaper, and safer in the long run

    On the other hand, if you understand the reasons for space colonization, you see that we’ll need experince with humans in space. The simple fact is, if we gave a sustained effort at colonization, we open up so many possiblities to solve our problems on this planet.

  • David Davenport

    The simple fact is, if we gave a sustained effort at colonization, we open up so many possiblities to solve our problems on this planet.

    How? Please explain.

  • ken murphy

    Oh golly, there’s so many examples David it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s see, open up new possibilities to solve problems on this planet…

    1) Advances in CELSS technology will help to advnace the state of the art in things like recycling and work environment management systems.

    2) Tapping a 4.5 billion year power supply doesn’t need much explanation.

    3) Materials science advances from alloys to ceramics to glasses can have all kinds of benefits down here on Earth.

    4) Small settlements allow for unique experiments in governance in a ‘controlled’ setting.

    5) Small settlements also allow for the creation of micro-cultures that evolve different societal values and mores, as well as arts, music, literature, other muses. Definitely a plus for civilization.

    6) New industries that none of us here can envision will develop. I’m personally curious about the optical qualities of the anhydrous glass on the Moon. Can we have better and lighter eyeglasses as a result? Who knows?

    7) I want to make vacuum spheres (a) for a commercial audience but more importantly (b) for the academic and (c) industrial markets. How cool would be a meter long cylinder with scale models of a hammer and feather inside? Schools would eat that up. What could private industry do with a 6m^3 volume of hard vacuum for an inexpensive price?

    8) Greater operational security could be ensured by having orbital crews making regular runs to GEO or HEO. This capacity would also enable larger, more powerful arrays that could ensure that DISH customers never get rained out.

    9) I’d consider asteroids to be one of the low-probability problems that needs to be solved, and having the kind of robust space-based assets necessary to support settlement would also enable some capability to address the problem. I’d be happy if we just got a sunward-looking NEO scope up at EML-1 for starters.

    10) Experimenting with crops in micro and partial gravity may allow greater insight into their biological functioning, which could be of benefit in agricultural applications.

    Shall I continue?

  • Great list, Ken. I’m copying this to my desktop for potential future use (with credit, of course).

    I would add asteroid mining and trade in lunar oxygen for use in space as at least potential near-term benefits.

    Also, in my opinion, your numbers four and five collectively are the single most important reason for human spaceflight. While we are rapidly converting ourselves to a mono-culture, mono-economy, and mono-political ideology down here, variety in all of these spheres is critical for the long-term survival of our species. In the future, that will only be possible out in the Solar System.

    — Donald