Not that astronauts necessarily stink. Well, actually, they probably do after a while, but I suppose one gets used to it.
Anyway, we are all faced, or at least those of us who live in countries that have rocket ships all face, the question of personed vs. un-personed space flight as a way of doing science abroad and related quests. I’m not sure myself what I think about it, but considering the huge cost and difficulty, and the physical limitations, of using humans to run instruments on other planets or in space, and the sheer impossibility of human space missions really far away, the best approach is probably to use a lot of robots.
But wait, you say, a simple mission to Mars, by humans, would reinvigorate the space program, etc. etc. It might. But I strongly suspect that the cost of such a mission would reinvigorate budgets (which is, after all, what we are talking about) less than the extra cost, long term, because human society and culture has the memory of a star nosed shrew, on a good day.
And besides, “unmanned” space flight is cool. Very cool. Want to find out how cool it is? Check this out:
Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration describes the unmanned space missions that have opened new windows on distant worlds. Spanning four decades of dramatic advances in astronomy and planetary science, this book tells the story of eleven iconic exploratory missions and how they have fundamentally transformed our scientific and cultural perspectives on the universe and our place in it.
The journey begins with the Viking and Mars Exploration Rover missions to Mars, which paint a startling picture of a planet at the cusp of habitability. It then moves into the realm of the gas giants with the Voyager probes and Cassini’s ongoing exploration of the moons of Saturn. The Stardust probe’s dramatic round-trip encounter with a comet is brought vividly to life, as are the SOHO and Hipparcos missions to study the Sun and Milky Way. This stunningly illustrated book also explores how our view of the universe has been brought into sharp focus by NASA’s great observatories–Spitzer, Chandra, and Hubble–and how the WMAP mission has provided rare glimpses of the dawn of creation.
Dreams of Other Worlds: The Amazing Story of Unmanned Space Exploration reveals how these unmanned exploratory missions have redefined what it means to be the temporary tenants of a small planet in a vast cosmos.
This is a fantastic, much read book, and if you don’t read it, your opinion about manned vs. unmanned spaceflight would not be very well informed.