For some reason, the Houston Chronicle article about the policy differences between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, which include at least subtle differences on the issue of human spaceflight, got the attention of some high-profile members on the left side of the political blogosphere. Monday morning Matthew Yglesias of The Atlantic Online posted a quick note about the article, citing the passage from the Chronicle article that notes that “Clinton was more enthusiastic than Obama about human space travel and domestic oil production” when interviewed by the paper. “Advantage, Obama!” Yglesias wrote. “Though Clinton is clearly taking the more Texas-friendly line here.”
That post generated a response by Chris Bowers of Open Left, who sees Clinton’s apparent enthusiasm about human spaceflight as an advantage, not a disadvantage. Bowers is clearly a fan of space exploration, including human spaceflight, and concludes, “While I hope that whoever becomes the next President will be bullish on space exploration, that Clinton appears more bullish than Obama is a real point in her column as far as I am concerned.”
This, in turn, generated a response by Yglesias, who makes it clear that he’s a supporter of space exploration, just not necessarily human spaceflight. “Unmanned missions are, at the moment, the ones really pushing the frontiers of our knowledge and that’s going to continue to be the case for the foreseeable future. That’s where we ought to be focusing our energies.”
As these humans-versus-robots arguments unfold, I would recommend that they, and anyone else interested in the issue, check out a new book, Robots in Space: Technology, Evolution, and Interplanetary Travel, by Roger Launius and Howard McCurdy. You can read a full review of the book in The Space Review, but in short, the two offer a thorough examination of the rationales that have been put forward over the years for both human and robotic space exploration, and the shortfalls and conflicts.