Not since the 1970’s has the manned space program rivaled robotic space exploration in achievement commensurate with the cost. Since the 70’s manned
space flight has been bound to earth orbit with such menial tasks as deploying satellites most of which could have been accomplished for less with a
simple booster. The question is whether or not manned space exploration is still needed and if so why have we, as a species, not pursued more
Of all the accomplishments of NASA the most notable of all is the moon shot, yet since Gene Cernan returned to the lunar lander on December 12 1972 we
have not been back. Consequently, despite all of our technological advances our greatest manned space flight achievement occurred some 32 years in
Since the Apollo mission’s man has not been more than 500 miles from the earth’s surface, a one day drive for many of us. We send astronauts up now
to orbit the earth and test the effects of weightlessness on earthworms and other albeit well-meaning but mostly useless experiments. Some have
extended vacations on the International Space Station but what are we really accomplishing? We are simply repeating the same accomplishments over and
over again. Maddeningly, within all this routine we have also lost two space shuttles and 14 astronauts.
On the other hand, the robotic missions, for the most part, have provided more scientific information and breakthroughs than their human counterparts.
Robots have visited some 70 different worlds while humans have visited only one. Robots have played in the red dirt of mars, glided through the
clouds of Jupiter, and grabbed the tail of a comet among others. Today it is the machines that are making the accomplishments in space not man. One
may beg the question is this how the future must be or can man be the principle explorer.
Let us examine the pro’s and con’s of manned space flight.
In the arena of cost the machines have a huge advantage over their flesh and blood counterparts. A typical shuttle flight that simply orbits the
earth costs anywhere between 450 and 500 million dollars. Conversely, with a price tag of approximately $15,000 per pound to lift a satellite into
orbit the heaviest satellite ever launched, the Compton gamma ray observatory, weighing in at 30,000 lbs is a bargain at 45 million. Keep in
mind the longest space shuttle mission was only 17 days while the longest satellite mission was almost 19 years. Also important we sent Spirit
and Opportunity to Mars for 800 million less than the cost of two shuttle missions. Simply put there is a disparaging gap between the cost
effectiveness of a robot mission and a manned mission.
Quite simply issue here because as we all know space is not friendly to mankind. The cold vacuum of space is full of sudden bursts of solar radiation
that can kill an unprotected astronaut, small debris that can destroy space craft, and weightlessness which over months can weaken bones, muscles, and
immune systems. As Challenger and Columbia have shown even routine launches and landings can be deadly to humans. Robots do not have these
limitations because they can be created specifically for space travel.
While machines can be designed for to perform precision work most of the time they are designed for one or a few specific tasks. Beyond what a
machine is programmed for it is helpless. The simple truth is that the breadth and depth of ability humans bring to the table is much higher than
that of a robot. NASA is currently working on a robonaut to handle some of the more tedious tasks of astronauts but the robonaut is only a
supplemental tool not a replacement.
With all this said the most important factor for manned space flight may lie in the need for it. While no one can say for sure to what extent humans
are affecting planet Earth it is definite that we have affected it. Global Warming, Global Dimming, Dead spots in the ocean, Deforestation are just
some of the very real effects of the human impact on this world. Who knows in 100 years we may need another world to live on or at the very least to
colonize. Machines cannot colonize for us we would have to do it ourselves.
President Bush has outlined his plan for putting man back on the moon by 2020 and using this as a stepping stone for Mars. His plan included spending
12 Billion dollars over the next 5 years, replacing the Shuttle fleet by 2010, full commitment to the ISS by 2010, and a permanent moon base by no
later than 2020.
Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry stated the day after Presidents Bush Speech that “Rather than sending Americans to Mars or the Moon right
now, these people would be better off trying to figure out how to get Americans back from Iraq." Kerry is unmistakably opposed to expanding manned
space flight because he points out Americans should not be concerned with the moon or Mars right now instead--- “We need to go to the Moon right here
on Earth' by creating high-paying jobs of the future and making sure that 'young Americans in uniform are never held hostage' to Middle East
The Libertarian Party is opposed to any government funded space exploration and wishes for NASA to be privatized.
In the end the question is whether or not the rewards of manned space flight are worth the cost and risks. Is man content to never venture from the
protected bonds of earth orbit? Or does man have a yearning for something more?
Edit: Change title format
[edit on 15-8-2004 by ZeddicusZulZorander]