Robots in space exploration
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” With these words, President John F. Kennedy roused America’s support of space exploration in 1962. He also acknowledged the geopolitical competition with the Soviet Union that provided the impetus to make mankind’s greatest technological achievement a possibility. Absent that Cold War motivation, our manned space program has languished in low Earth orbit for the last 40 years. That drought drives home the point that we must return to the spirit of human exploration of the final frontier exemplified by the Apollo program. The need to see what is over the next horizon — and not to simply see it, but to actually touch it — is a fundamental aspect of human nature. Those horizons beckon on countless asteroids, the moon and Mars.
The manned exploration of space is an expression of one of our finest aspects — curiosity. To truly satisfy that curiosity we need to be participants. My colleague correctly points out that the robotic space program is a far more cost-effective means of advancing our scientific knowledge of the universe, and I could not agree more. While valuable advances have been made because of the manned program, it cannot and should not be justified on the grounds of scientific advancement. It is instead about something equally important as science — the inspiration of our species to pursue lofty goals.