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It can be said that sending humans into space is a victory for the human imagination, a scientific achievement and an engineering marvel in every sense of the word, but to what extent do we really need the presence of humans in space? While the astronauts’ efforts advance our understanding of the universe, and their travels inspire young people in their disciplines, when it comes to exploration, robots are outpacing them and doing so at much lower cost and without risk to life.
Martin Rees, the British astronomer, and Donald Goldsmith, the American astrophysicist, who have published a book called The Astronauts’ End: Why Robots Shape the Future of Space Exploration, argue that the cost of human space travel greatly outweighs the benefits, and that robots are becoming more capable in space. While human bodies would not.
At this point, if we send a probe to Mars, it will not be able to locate the craters, but in 10 to 20 years, artificial intelligence that allows machines to look at about 100,000 x-rays will determine that better than humans. And with that kind of technology, there would be no need for humans. Then there is the very high cost, except to recall that the shuttle launches failed twice out of 135. And while a robot can spend six months on its way to Mars using almost nothing, for that trip a human needs regular air and protection from solar storms and other things. Of the health effects, such as the effects of zero gravity on humans for a long time.
On the other hand, with some people showing willingness to go at their own expense, there may be collisions if not with human vehicles, then with satellites we continue to put there, and space will only be for adventurers though the possibility of a limited human colony by the end of the century.
In quoting their book, the British magazine Wired reported that humans managed to put a semi-autonomous rover on the surface of Mars, one of a continuous series of orbiters and landers, which include cameras and tools to probe Martian soil and find tracks around obstacles, and this was not able to an earlier probe than to do.
She noted that since the Apollo 17 spacecraft left the moon in 1972, astronauts have not traveled beyond low Earth orbit. In this field, their greatest achievement was with the Hubble Telescope’s five repair missions, which extended its life by decades by providing improved cameras and other systems. All of these missions cost about a billion dollars, while the cost of the Hubble telescope amounted to another billion dollars, and one estimate had put the cost of the five repair missions at the cost of building seven replacement telescopes.
Also, astrophysicists have managed to send all of their space-borne observatories to distances four times farther from the moon, as the James Webb Telescope prepares to study a range of cosmic objects; In return, the robots visited all the planets of the sun (including Pluto) in addition to comets and an asteroid, where they provided huge amounts of data about them and their moons, such as “Europe” for Jupiter and “Enceladus” for Saturn.
With the increase in the capabilities of robots and the scientific importance of their discoveries, the cost will be much less than a single trip by humans, the latter of which will remain impossible in the next few decades, except for perhaps the moon and Mars.
In 2020, NASA revealed “20 achievements from 20 years of science aboard the International Space Station,” 17 of which could be performed by robots, such as launching small satellites, discovering cosmic particles, employing microgravity conditions to develop drugs, studying flames and 3D printing. in the space. This is while the remaining three missions dealt with muscle atrophy and osteoporosis, growing food or identifying microbes in space, things that are of importance to humans in that environment, but hardly constitute a rationale for sending him into space.
As for why many people think that space exploration is the domain of human explorers and not robots? The book refers first to tradition: from Marco Polo to Yuri Gagarin and Neil Armstrong, the perception has been that discovery requires the direct participation of humans, and then there is, secondly, a factor in that the possibilities and possibilities of communicating with humans are more stable than those of machines. And third, love of adventure. The exploration of human-led space is a source of inspiration, as children imagine going into space and increase their interest in science, and they also receive constant stimulation from space movies.
Property rights provide a major impetus, as modern nations seem ready to assert their claims to parts of the moon, most notably above the “peak of eternal light” near the south pole of the moon, where the sun’s rays always shine. The competition includes the establishment of lunar colonies or the mining of the moon.
With ownership comes the desire for revolution, as entrepreneurs dream of sourcing rare and useful materials from the rare isotope helium to rare earth elements available only from a few locations, primarily in China, that have become essential to products such as cell phones, electric cars and fighter jets. It is noteworthy that, with the exception of helium-3 buried in the soil of the Moon, some asteroids offer more promising opportunities for such mining.
Regardless of the position on issues of property and revolution, they can be successfully carried out using machines, and this also applies to scientific activities such as building a telescope much more efficiently and cheaper than humans on the far side of the Moon.
But in the foreseeable future, between 10 years or more, human adventures in space will not be a routine tourism, the space shuttle has crashed twice out of 135 launches, and the risk of death is about 2%, but private adventurers will gladly accept this adventure. There will even be volunteers for one-way trips to Mars, with the realization that scientific discoveries and the construction of large structures and technologies in space can be made more cost-effectively and more effectively by robots without any danger to human life.