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Astronauts As Alien Life Hunters?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the risk-is-our-business dept.

Space 172

astroengine writes "Ever since the last NASA space shuttle mission touched down in Florida on July 21, there has been a spirited debate in articles and blogs across the Internet over the future of humans in space. Everyone seems to be asking: What's the point of spending shedloads of cash getting mankind into space when robots can do it at a fraction of the cost? Well, pending any great (and unexpected) advance in robotics, our adaptability in space may be our biggest asset. Ultimately, the hunt for extraterrestrial life may need an astronaut to physically push deeper into space." Also, who wants to let the robots have all the fun?

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172 comments

True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (2, Insightful)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670138)

Yes, humans would certainly be a lot better at searching for and finding life in person than any remote robot. But without at least some hint that such life even EXISTS in our solar system outside of earth, that's a pretty bizarre justification for a very expensive and resource-intensive manned space program. And even if it were a reason, if wouldn't justify the last 40 years of the manned space program. If life is out there in this solar system, it's sure as hell not sitting in low earth orbit. You're going to have to go to other planets and moons if you want to find life. And that's going to require a huge investment. Good luck getting that kind of scratch out of a bunch of first-world governments *already* spending way beyond their means.

This guy is actually proposing building research stations on the moon and Mars. And that's going to be an even bigger investment than just getting there. Is that doable? With enough motivation and money, sure. But that's the kind of motivation that's going to require sacrifice. Would you be willing to see your taxes double to pay for it? Would you be willing to give up one of the big government expenses/entitlements (Social Security, the military, Medicare) and funnel that money to NASA? If your answer is "no" to both of those questions, you can probably forget about your Mars bases. Exploration and colonization that far out isn't going to come cheap. That's going to be a pretty tough sell just to answer the philosophical question "Are we alone?" (especially when the answer may well turn out to be "Yes," at least in this solar system).

And for anyone who might suggest going *beyond* our solar system, well that's even more crazy/expensive. With the kind of propulsion we have now, even in the best case scenario it would take tens of thousands of years to reach even the closest other solar system. So unless you have a warp engine on the drawing board, you can pretty much forget that.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (3, Funny)

genner (694963) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670322)

. So unless you have a warp engine on the drawing board, you can pretty much forget that.

All we need to do is build a ship entirely out of neutrinos.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (3, Funny)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670356)

All we need to do is build a ship entirely out of neutrinos.

We will. It arrived there several years ago.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (3, Interesting)

drakaan (688386) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670380)

Put me down on the list of people who would gladly give up his social security benefits and pay double his current tax rate if my government would build research stations on the moon and/or mars. I'd bump that up to 2.5x my current rate if they'd relax FAA restrictions on private spaceflight and pump cash into commercial spacecraft development.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (4, Insightful)

danlip (737336) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670480)

Put me down as someone who would give up 90% of our military budget for just about any decent science investment (or even indecent ones, like a Mars colony)

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670704)

As a scientist whose DoD funded research supports the operations of several non-DoD government agencies, you may not get the bang for the buck you expect here.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (3, Insightful)

bobamu (943639) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671110)

Surely it's preferable for space transport projects not to go bang.

is this really so indecent? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37671452)

A moon base with mining facilities would be feasible and profitable.
Then building all the space stuff on the moon for cheaper launch cost with mostly robotic stuff.
Then establishing a mars colony. (in 200-300 years).

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37672374)

says the person who never served in the military

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (1)

symbolset (646467) | more than 2 years ago | (#37672932)

The rockets would very quickly become Chinese rockets, and not in a nice friendly "outsourcing" way.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (2)

ThunderBird89 (1293256) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670586)

I'm not a US citizen, but I'd even donate money to the US government, if it meant they'd go public with the Cheyenne mountain complex...

Joke aside, both you and grandparent make a good point. However, the legal framework for space exploration/exploitation must be laid down first. The one we ahve right now is not exactly conducive, nor enforceable. We need one that lets nations take ownership/stewardship of extraterrestrial territories, an empowered UN authority to oversee spaceflight and extraterrestrial resource extraction, and shares the fruits of the exploration in a just and justifiable manner to encourage participation.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (3, Insightful)

xstonedogx (814876) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670692)

Government is not the answer. NASA has neither the will nor the ability to build stations on the moon or even to reach Mars. Now if China were to land a man on the moon...

Put your money where your mouth is and donate to or invest in a private organization that shares your goals. They are not only more likely to succeed, but more likely to spend that money wisely and in a way that reflects your interests. Bonus: you might see profits someday.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (3, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670808)

I find your ideas intriguing and would like to subscribe to your newsletter....

But I'm not giving you a dime until you come up with some sort of not-insane business plan. Too bad you can't. There IS NO economic justification for space exploration as of yet. The technology is nowhere near advanced enough. Now, go find some Unobtanium and maybe that will change things. But absent that, it will be governments doing it for government reasons - only a small bit of that will be the advancement of mankind.

We need a credible enemy. Either the Chinese or aliens, take your pick. I personally prefer the latter since we can control them with decades old hardware.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (3, Interesting)

xstonedogx (814876) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671042)

GP didn't say anything about the economics of it. He said research base. He said donate. Imagine what NASA could do with twice the funds and none of the Congressional oversight. Now imagine what NASA as we have it now would do with twice the funds (but not guaranteed) and the same amount of Congressional oversight.

As for a 'not-insane business plan' it seems pretty obvious to me that if you think what is lacking is the technology than that is where you should put your money first.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671792)

Well you mention a 'private organization who shares your goals' and I'd like to subscribe to their newsletter. Giving some tax deferred money to the government department of your choice, be it NASA, the DEA or whatever floats your boat is a wonderful idea. Some states use that method to fund parks and such. I doubt it would give you as much money as a dedicated lottery however (now that's an idea, a NASA lottery. You get some money, you push the 'launch' button).

But the kind of money we're talking about to get out of LEO is going to be well beyond anything other than a government. Sad but true. I suppose IBM, Microsoft and Apple could collectively go insane and take all their money and dump it into space exploration, but I find that less credible than a Sarah Palin presidency, if quite a bit more palatable.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (4, Interesting)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670482)

Yes, humans would certainly be a lot better at searching for and finding life in person than any remote robot.

I'm not sure even that is true. Yes, Earth-bound humans are better than software at reasoning things out -- but that can largely be done remotely, as we have seen with the Mars rovers.

Earth-bound Humans are currently better at many impomptu, lightweight manual tasks than Earth-bound robots -- but are they still better when encumbered in a 200-pound spacesuit, with gloves like oven mitts? I'd argue that a robot (either locally or remotely controlled) might be more agile than a human in that situation, if only because the robot doesn't need to be hermetically sealed into a life-support system that inhibits its movements.

Which leads to the biggest problem with humans-in-space: humans aren't expendable. If a robot breaks down in space, you can just let it hobble along as best it can, and/or abandon it and send out an identical replacement. If a human being gets sick or dies in space, that is a potential mission-ender, from both a technical and political perspective. Look how long it took NASA to recover from the Challenger disaster -- years of reviews and finger-pointing. With robot missions, OTOH, even a catastrophic failure just means money down the drain, not flag-draped empty coffins and tearful "My Fellow Americans" speeches on the TV. (yes, I know, death is noble and part of the Grand Adventure and all, but it wouldn't take too many iterations of "watch a beloved astronaut die a slow, horrible death on live TV, with bugger all that anyone can do about it" to convince the American public that their dime is better spent elsewhere)

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37671002)

The space suit is related to the other big problem. Radiation. After the first solar flare any astronauts sitting in a capsule going to Mars are cancer patients. Until we solve the radiation problem space is too harsh an environment.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (1)

turbidostato (878842) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671164)

"it wouldn't take too many iterations of "watch a beloved astronaut die a slow, horrible death on live TV, with bugger all that anyone can do about it" to convince the American public that their dime is better spent elsewhere"

Then how is it that not even 2000 iterations of "watch your beloved GI Joe die a horrible death" did manage to convince your American public to expend their dimes anywhere but Iraq/Afghanistan?

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (2)

Jeremi (14640) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671476)

Then how is it that not even 2000 iterations of "watch your beloved GI Joe die a horrible death" did manage to convince your American public to expend their dimes anywhere but Iraq/Afghanistan?

That's a good question... the difference is that the government can sell war to the American public by convincing them that it's necessary to keep them safe... the old "better over there than here" argument.

NASA, OTOH, can't play the fear card. The public (rightly) views space exploration as a non-necessity.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671752)

NASA, OTOH, can't play the fear card.

Wag the Dog.

Hey, don't knock it; after all, it worked for Bush...

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (1)

qeveren (318805) | more than 2 years ago | (#37672788)

Of course humans are expendable. You just can't shove it in the public's faces like the Challenger incident (I dunno that 'disaster' is the appropriate word) did.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37672814)

Are you sure about the robot not needing some form of life support? What if the magnetic field is 1,000 times stronger than on earth? What if the place they find possible life has an atmosphere that is extremely acidic? I'm sure there are many reasons why a robot could need nearly as much protection as a human. Certainly a vacuum isn't too bad on a robot assuming the lubrication isn't a problem and any rubber-like compounds don't have trouble with drying out. But there are certainly places a robot might need some life support.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (2)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670638)

"Yes, humans would certainly be a lot better at searching for and finding life in person than any remote robot."

Bullshit. Your asserted conclusion doesn't apply to present tech because supporting humans is so expensive and resource-intensive that they can barely be sent off-earth.

Your asserted conclusion won't apply to future tech because it will continue to improve very quickly since its life-cycle need not be prolonged like the Space Shuttle.

Humans MUST interact with the totally hostile off-earth environment by using machines of varying complexity. The need for an onsite operator is diminishing, so that leaves "tourism" as a reason to send meat into space.

Space "exploration" isn't any different from combat airpower in the respect that putting the operator up-front is an expensive liability entailing a massive logistic tail. It's dull and dangerous, ideal for remotely-operated and eventually autonomous systems.

Humans in Space (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670734)

Not knowing about anything, now that we have robots in space and the ever present government cameras, I think we can finally call ourselves aliens.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (2)

the gnat (153162) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670776)

Would you be willing to see your taxes double to pay for it? Would you be willing to give up one of the big government expenses/entitlements (Social Security, the military, Medicare) and funnel that money to NASA?

Well, I wouldn't be willing to see my taxes double, and since I'll never get to go on any of these space missions, I'd prefer to keep at least some insurance against dying on the streets at age 70. Given the choice, I'd prefer to see most of the $1 trillion or so we're flushing away on our military used to pay of the national debt, and/or refunded to taxpayers. But if the money needs to be spent, I'd prefer to see it go to the space program, and I think you'll find a lot of people in agreement.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670820)

Use convicted volunteers sentenced to long terms of imprisonment

a three year mars mission for a six year sentence

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670838)

The title of the article is just being sensationalist. Truth is, human astronauts do better than robots in any research.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (3, Insightful)

holmstar (1388267) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671270)

Would you be willing to see your taxes double to pay for it? Would you be willing to give up one of the big government expenses/entitlements (Social Security, the military, Medicare) and funnel that money to NASA? If your answer is "no" to both of those questions, you can probably forget about your Mars bases. Exploration and colonization that far out isn't going to come cheap.

No it won't be cheap, but it's a different scale of expense than what your suggesting. We're talking about a cost of probably something around $100 billion. While that's many times the current NASA budget, it's still only a small fraction of the total Federal budget. It would be less than $1000 per tax payer per year. Not to downplay the value of $1000, but i'd certainly be willing to give that if it meant "boldly going" to places like Mars, Europa, etc.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (1)

bertok (226922) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671690)

You're off by a digit.

The James Webb Space Telescope is going to cost about 10 Billion by itself, and it's just a single-rocket unmanned mission that doesn't go anywhere near as far as Mars!

NASA's yearly budget is already over 15 Billion. It's a safe bet that a mission to the Moon or Mars would take at least a decade, and NASA's budget would have to double at a minimum. That's a 150 Billion right there, as a lower bound. More realistically, like you said, NASA's budget would have to increase manyfold, and mission would take longer. That implies a cost of over a trillion dollars.

Note that this isn't like the bailout, which were loans that were eventually repaid. This is a trillion dollars that are going to be launched into space, never to come back.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37671980)

Yes, humans would certainly be a lot better at searching for and finding life...

And fucking it too. Don't forget fucking the scorchingly-hot green and blue aliens, so as to create new species to spread our DNA further...

Fortunately there are other reasons (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 2 years ago | (#37672358)

That's going to be a pretty tough sell just to answer the philosophical question "Are we alone?"

Fortunately there are other reasons. Scientific research that potentially offers economic benefits, this includes basic research (benefit is later rather than sooner). Energy production, solar power is far more viable outside the atmosphere. Speaking of outside the atmosphere, how about production of materials and goods that involve processes that are polluting or otherwise present a health or environmental risk. Production of materials or goods that would greatly benefit from low gravity environments. Access to immense amount of resources (asteroids - metals, chemicals), note that such access also *dramatically* reduces the cost of future space based endeavors. And of course there are other things like, oh, a military "high ground" advantage.

Now I'm sure some are tempted to dismiss producing goods in orbit due to "shipping costs" but consider this. Shipping goods across the ocean was once prohibitively expensive except for the most expensive or rare goods. That has changed dramatically. Shipping the cheapest goods across the ocean is now economically viable. Space based production will most likely follow a similar pattern.

Again, I am not claiming an immediate economic benefit (beyond employment and dual use technological advances - perhaps these should be included as factors offsetting the cost of a space based endeavors). I am merely pointing out motivations that are a bit more viable than the discovery of alien life. Of course I am curious too, but its something pretty low on the priority list.

Re:True, but that's still going to be a tough sell (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37672922)

Would you be willing to give up one of the big government expenses/entitlements (Social Security, the military, Medicare) and funnel that money to NASA?

I'll say "yes" to giving up the military (or at least drastically downsizing it). There's no credible threat from other humans that can't be handled by 1) a very small and technologically advanced defensive force and 2) getting the USA's nose out of other countries' business, so we don't create fanatics who hate us. However, there IS a credible threat from earth-crossing asteroids, and we need a real space program to deal with those. There's still a chance that Apophis is going to impact Earth in 2036, but if we just sit around here pursuing wars in the middle east and doing our best to destroy the middle class, there won't be anything that can be done about it by the time they figure out their calculations were wrong and it really is going to hit us.

Steve Jobs died for the lulz (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670186)

Now you can suck Tim Cooks cock at the official iPhone 4S launch at your local apple store.

Re:Steve Jobs died for the lulz (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670816)

Better than sucking Stallman's. At least Tim Cook looks like he's had a bath in the last decade or so. Stallman is a filthy pig.

Really that's the best you got? (1)

ElitistWhiner (79961) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670208)

No accounting for the fact that putting a man in space is the most expense and bassackwards excuse to self-indulgence, now there's a new holier than robots excuse. Well keep at it NASA! Anything to get funded one more decade, right?

Re:Really that's the best you got? (1)

swanzilla (1458281) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670394)

Weak argument for sure. The best part of TFA was the epic Photoshopped picture of astronauts exploring a space volcano.

Dalak Hunter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670290)

First it was Crocodile Hunters, now Alien Life Hunter, next it will be Dalek Hunter.

You can't adapt to a hard vacuum. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670306)

Well, we can have a handful of manned missions to a couple of nearby interesting places.

Or, we can scatter thousands of of robotic probes across the solar system like dandelion seeds in the wind and find tons of new and unexpected things.

Sending people into space just so we can say 'been there, done that' at such a premium in price just doesn't make a lot of sense.

Re:You can't adapt to a hard vacuum. (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670694)

Why post AC?

You are right. The purpose of sending humans so VERY, VERY early when they will only ever be able to interact with their totally hostile environment by using machines ANYWAY is not more than entertainment.

When wooden ships and iron men were expendable and routinely expended, one could throw away a ship and crew. Now, humans are a burden to the exploratory process so leave them at home.

First probes, then tourism.

Human space travel (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670310)

    I'm a believer that humans will need to be involved (i.e., on the ship) as we continue space exploration. Partly it's so we can say "We did this."

    Think of it on a smaller context. Do you want to look at pictures of the Grand Canyon, or do you want to be there? I saw plenty of pictures before I went. Standing on the edge, with my toes just over the edge and my girlfriend saying that I was fucking nuts, was something I won't ever forget.

    I've been to a lot of places. Sometimes, no matter how many photos you see, it will never be the same as being there.

  As the post was about alien hunting, consider this. We make first contact with an intelligent alien species. Should that first contact be a robot claw reproducing the sound of our voice, or a human in a suit.

    That's not to say I expect it to happen any time soon, but with as large as the universe is, there is a very good chance that it will happen eventually. The whole idea that we can send robots out to do it for us, while we sit in the air conditioned comfort of our homes and offices, just doesn't sit well with me.

Re:Human space travel (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670752)

We make first contact with an intelligent alien species. Should that first contact be a robot claw reproducing the sound of our voice, or a human in a suit.

That depends on whether they're Vulcans or Romulans, of course.

Re:Human space travel (1)

xstonedogx (814876) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670922)

Think of it on a smaller context. Do you want to look at pictures of the Grand Canyon, or do you want to be there?

No, think of it like this: Do you want a person to take pictures of the Grand Canyon or do you want a robot to do it. You going to the Grand Canyon isn't really an option. I'm sure all of NASA's astronauts are in favor of a Mars mission. Since I'm not one, your argument isn't very compelling.

As the post was about alien hunting, consider this. We make first contact with an intelligent alien species. Should that first contact be a robot claw reproducing the sound of our voice, or a human in a suit.

This post is really about Mars. We won't be sending humans to Europa or other distant points. There's no life on Mars that is going to care one way or the other. I'm not sure even intelligent life would know the difference unless it was sufficiently technologically advanced and there is no evidence that any life like that is in our solar system.

...there is a very good chance that it will happen eventually.

Once the technology and economic incentives are in place for human space travel doing this type of research will be relatively trivial.

But we're talking about the present. Now, we should be sending robots. They are relatively cheap, expendable, and more adapted to hostile environments since we design them that way. They only lack imagination, but we augment that remotely using humans on Earth.

Right tools for the right jobs. (1)

Dutchmaan (442553) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670318)

Personally sending men into orbit serves it's purpose right now, which is basically testing and perfecting how to keep human beings sustained in space and performing zero-g experiements and other assorted advances in science that couldn't be achieved on the surface. Robots are ideal for reaching further out into space, they don't need to be fed, they don't get tired, no physiological mental or emotional hurdles to overcome. Granted there's a trade off that machines are very limited in their abilities, or more accurately very specific in their abilities. The more comfortable we feel getting vehicles up and returned from space reliably and cheaply, the further out we'll push with human exploration, it's just a matter of time.

And if you read to the end of the article (1, Informative)

PNutts (199112) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670376)

Everything beyond Mars is a telescope or robot.

Re:And if you read to the end of the article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37671212)

Wait. So first Pluto is a planet. Then it's a dwarf planet. Now it's either a telescope or a robot?!

No! (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670392)

No! We need more money for foreign wars, keeping Wall Street afloat and Congressional pork!

Travel the stars or die. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37671382)

Did you notice the senate had the power to change the rules needed to pass a bill by super majority with riders, hearings and just last week changed them.
Not for Single payer health care or a balanced budget amendment, not to close Guantanamo or leave Iraq not for banking reform either.

Campaign finance has turned us into a wholly owned subsidiary of Military Industrial Inc.
Saw a paralyzed women use motorized legs to walk. Yep developed first for soldiers to be more efficient.

We must leave the planet if mankind it to survive it's own brutish nature.

It doesn't look good for the human race Gliese 581 the nearest star with habitable planets is 20.3 parsecs away and would take 70,000 years to reach were traditional space craft possible and used to get there.

The question becomes reduced to:
Travel the stars or die here like the short sighted natives of Easter Island.

Humans are the most adaptable *on earth now* (4, Insightful)

buybuydandavis (644487) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670448)

But let's see them adapt to vacuum. To cosmic rays. To a year of hibernation.

A human mission requires orders of magnitude more cost and complexity than a robotic mission. For the same lift requirements, you could set up a robotic science center good for years if not decades of experiments.

And robots are getting better every year. Computers are getting better every year. It's really no contest at this point.

Re:Humans are the most adaptable *on earth now* (3, Insightful)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670754)

Not to mention that a manned mission would be much easier with in situ resource utilization that would necessitate a lot of unmanned research and prep work.

Re:Humans are the most adaptable *on earth now* (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670784)

But why should we send robots? Wouldn't it be more cost effective to just send a stone? Or what if we didn't send anything at all that would have a lot higher success rate.

I find a value in human presence in space. Just robots isn't that cool.

Re:Humans are the most adaptable *on earth now* (1)

internerdj (1319281) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670970)

If you have to interface with the environment through a machine, does it make sense to do it on location versus remotely? There is an analytical way to answer this (and NASA is really good at it.) Furthermore, does your dream of value outweigh someone's dream of no human starving to death here? Does your dream of value outweigh someone else's nightmare of Iran blowing up our only real ally in a region that hates us? Does your dream of value outweigh the risk of not supporting failing industries that are core to our nation's economy? Those are even bigger questions with even more difficult answers.

Re:Humans are the most adaptable *on earth now* (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37671442)

But let's see them adapt to vacuum. To cosmic rays. To a year of hibernation.

A human mission requires orders of magnitude more cost and complexity than a robotic mission. For the same lift requirements, you could set up a robotic science center good for years if not decades of experiments.

And robots are getting better every year. Computers are getting better every year. It's really no contest at this point.

Am I the last generation of people who want to see SOMEONE go where no man has gone before? Why have pitchers in baseball when a modified howitzer can pitch faster and be more accurate? I want to be able to hear the astronaut talk about what it was like to be in space, shrug off the risk, and feel proud that someday people will go where I would never have dreamed. Robots have their place to prepare the areas to live and all that, but there is no substitute for actual people.

Re:Humans are the most adaptable *on earth now* (1)

bertok (226922) | more than 2 years ago | (#37672018)

Let me rephrase that for you: ...I want to be able to hear the nuclear engineer talk about what it was like to be inside the reactor, shrug off the risk, and feel proud that someday people will go where I would never have dared. Robots have their place to prepare the areas to live and all that, but there is no substitute for actual people.

It sounds stupid, but it's directly comparable. Space is full of deadly, ionising radiation, and that is actually the least of the hazards! How is it a good thing to send someone into that environment needlessly, when there are robots available to do it? Should we decommission the robots used in nuclear engineering so that the brave engineers' widows can be proud of their noble sacrifice?

Every time some science fiction fan like you gets all dreamy about space colonisation, ignoring the harsh realities glossed over in fiction, I like to give this challenge:

If you think it's so fantastic living isolated from the rest of humanity on a cold rock in a hard vacuum, and that you'd just "jump" at the opportunity, then move to Bouvet Island [wikipedia.org], with the following rules: you have to carry everything you'll ever need with you (including air), delay radio communications by ten minutes, have a one year delay on any visits or assistance, the building at the destination has to be airtight, and you never get to leave it unless dressed in a head-to-toe scuba gear. Also, for every pound of material you take with you, donate $100 to your favourite charity. For extra realism, sprinkle some radioactive material around your dwelling and take medication that causes osteoporosis.

All the fun of space, for a fraction of the cost, and you can do it right now! Why delay?

Re:Humans are the most adaptable *on earth now* (1)

Fned (43219) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671506)

But let's see them adapt to vacuum. To cosmic rays. To a year of hibernation.

Yes, lets!

A mission to another planet could do for biological transhumanism what the first space race did for materials science.

lets stay where we are (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670454)

it worked for the dinosaurs

oh...

I watched a TV show about that (1)

mykos (1627575) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670464)

It was pretty good and had the guy who played Professor Xavier in it. I'd love to see it happen in real life.

Robot cannot become star child (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670470)

My God... It's full of stars!

Hooey. We don't even know what we're looking for. (1)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670520)

We have telescopic data galore. It never occurs to look for something that might be an artifact. I doubt we've identified all the intelligences on Earth yet, much less extraterrestrials? If a species of club moss was intelligent, how, (other than with a zipf analysis of its chemical exchanges), would we know? Ditto for large bacteria colonies, squid or mushrooms.

What would a human physical presence add unless we happened to meet up with a recognizable, tool using, creature, and why would we not use a semi-autonomous avatar/robot to interact with it anyway?

Relax.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670534)

Stop all this hot blathering, don't make it seem as if NASA is some insane portion of the budget or that NASA hasn't been a massive boon to the sciences and inventive ways of thinking of the world, let alone its contribution to technology.

why do we want to find aliens? (1)

cod3r_ (2031620) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670538)

I mean seriously. If we ever did find aliens we'd probably wish we hadn't. Hasn't NASA seen the movies?

Big downside to humans on Mars (1)

tbonefrog (739501) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670562)

Let's forget about the dead heroes in the epic quest to get men to Mars and back (See the race for the South Pole for how it goes.) Lets forget about the quadrillions of dollars. Let's forget about the speed of advances in robotics that have made it possible to explore the Titanic and the deepest points in the ocean with no risk and at low cost.
We do not know what kind of life may still exist on Mars. It may be anywhere in the top couple hundred kilometers of the surface.
I went to Antarctica and saw first-hand what even a bunch of careful scientists can do to trash a place, and it is entirely possible we could destroy all life on Mars before we even knew it was there, if we go in person.
We might also bring back something that we did not consider alive. Andromeda Strain, Alien, etc.
We are being more careful to avoid corrupting Lake Vostok (google it) than we are planning to be with a far more exotic place. There could be entirely new approaches to DNA-based and non-DNA-based life on Mars. The last thing we want to do is go charging in there with guns blazing.
If you want to spend some money, build a huge solar array and send a humongous laser beam to an unmanned vehicle to get it going really fast and lets get something in orbit around a nearby star in the next hundred years or so. Make up some really long-baseline interferometry telescopy application for it when it gets there.
Or play around on the moon. slightly less deadly, get to work on solar powered self-replicating robots to build massive underground habitats for us where we'll be a little safer from impacts and radiation. Start growing a stockpile of food. And then send people up there if you really have to.
DO NOT POOP ON MARS.

What's the point of robotics in space? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670598)

Personally I don't see much point to sending robots - unless the goal is to make it easier to get humans there.\

Hard to adapt to a vacuum. (1)

mspohr (589790) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670700)

There are some basic problems with human space travel.

First, there is that whole "speed of light" business. Unless we can figure a way around that, we aren't going anywhere useful.

Second, life support. It's just real hard to survive without air, water and food. Robots don't need these.

From the way things are going here on earth, it doesn't look like we'll even be able to survive here much longer, not to mention in space.

Re:Hard to adapt to a vacuum. (1)

farble1670 (803356) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671142)

First, there is that whole "speed of light" business

which is no less a problem for robots.

Re:Hard to adapt to a vacuum. (1)

innerweb (721995) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671470)

Yes and no. True, it will still take decades to centuries to get anywhere. Robots don't have to worry about biological functions though, so those waits are mere seconds to a robot. And, machines can handle much higher accelerations than people. So, they can get to a higher speed faster than a manned flight could.

Re:Hard to adapt to a vacuum. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37672990)

Acceleration isn't in issue. There is no power source that could provide continuous acceleration over any significant distance that would stress out even a weak human. 1 gravity gets you to mars and back in a damn hurry (a quick glance at some google results suggests 2-5 days to mars. For 4 lightyears would take 3.5 years subjective, 5.6 years objective) Check this out too: http://www.cthreepo.com/lab/math1.shtml

Re:Hard to adapt to a vacuum. (1)

RussR42 (779993) | more than 2 years ago | (#37673176)

Also, 1g is enough to get you anywhere in the galaxy and back in your own life span. You don't even have to start all that young or live to an unusual age and you still have time to stop and smell the flowers when you get to the destination*. If anything, robotic probes would use lower accelerations over interstellar distances as it will save on fuel/reaction mass and doesn't make a whole lot of difference to the objective time of the trip. For example, that 4ly trip at 1g takes 5.6 years, at 0.1g it's around 13 years.

* Looks like about 22 years to cross the milky way. And when you get home you can look forward to a couple hundred thousand years of interest on your bank accounts :)

Re:Hard to adapt to a vacuum. (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37673148)

First, there is that whole "speed of light" business. Unless we can figure a way around that, we aren't going anywhere useful.

One way is the generation ship. Build a giant ship and put a colony of humans in there. Eventually, their ancestors will reach another planet. Obviously, not that many people would be willing to take such a trip (and doom their children and ancestors to lives confined to a spacecraft), but if the Earth is crapping out, it might seem like a reasonable alternative.

For feasibility, it'd probably make a lot of sense to build the spacecraft inside a hollowed-out asteroid.

The main problem with the idea is where to get enough energy to last the whole trip, as you need energy to run all the life-support systems as well as grow food, in addition to propulsion. Currently, we get most of our energy for these things in the form of photonic energy from a large conveniently-located nuclear reactor called "the Sun", but out in interstellar space this wouldn't be an option.

Horrible at Moving Mass (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670724)

It's not just "robots are cheaper". It's that we are horrible at accelerating/decelerating mass. Once we can propel spaceships by means other than having to jettison most of its mass behind itself, then we can talk about manned missions again.

Another way to look at it (1)

koan (80826) | more than 2 years ago | (#37670832)

If robots do all of our space exploration then when it comes time to move into space permanently we will be behind the medical and psych knowledge curve required to adapt the human form, the more time in space a human has the more they know what space (micro gravity, vacuum, radiation) will do to them and how to adapt.

Frankly I think any human living in micro-G for a lifetime would have to be genetically modified, or we need to get to the engineering level of moving and spinning large rocks so we have a livable space for the current gene pool.

Re:Another way to look at it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670930)

Correct. There are some problems [slashdot.org] that robots can't solve.

Humans will one day be obsolete for everything (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37670856)

Get used to it. Once computers gain the same thinking ability as a human engineer, that will enter a feedback loop building even better computers, not the reality shows and hair loss we have our top human thinkers researching.

Exponential growth in computer intelligence is bound to happen.

They (the robots) won't need us to explore space or for any other reason.

We're obsolete. We're a cruel, pleasure-seeking species which had a brief glimpse of intellectualism fueled by cheap oil. They don't need you sitting on the couch or posting snarky comments.

Re:Humans will one day be obsolete for everything (1)

xstonedogx (814876) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671330)

Would a thinking computer want to design a system that would make itself obsolete?

Ant colonies! (1)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671034)

Why not send ant colonies into space? They're cheaper than robots, and more adaptable than humans. The individual ants are easily dispensable, and with their fast breeding cycle we just let evolution do the mission design work for us. There's really no downside once you think about it for a minute, citizen.

Re:Ant colonies! (1)

genner (694963) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671160)

Why not send ant colonies into space? They're cheaper than robots, and more adaptable than humans. The individual ants are easily dispensable, and with their fast breeding cycle we just let evolution do the mission design work for us. There's really no downside once you think about it for a minute, citizen.

Ant's still need life support. There not cheaper than robots if you take that into consideration.

nonsense (1)

farble1670 (803356) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671118)

Ultimately, the hunt for extraterrestrial life may need an astronaut to physically push deeper into space.

ultimately astronauts would be relying on manual, hand-held versions of the the same sensors present on robots to do their "life detection". every "sensor" on a human is outperformed by the non-bio version that can be carried by robots.

Robots first, then human colonists (1)

roca (43122) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671176)

Send robots to explore. Send robots to build a base with power supply, mining and manufacturing to build more robots. Build a bigger base with air, water and plants to eat. Then, and only then, send human colonists on a one-way trip.

Re:Robots first, then human colonists (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671680)

I can tell you don't work in manufacturing. There is a reason why even with CNC mills and lathes, the machine operator is an integral component.

That reason is because computer control systems used for manufacturing fuck up, and do so frequently.

A fully robotic factory is currently a pipdream, and if it ever became possible, it would place thousands of people out of work.

To build a space colony on the moon or on mars, the only sensible way to do it would be to soft land all the parts, tools, and heavy equipment there, then send a dual purpose shuttle\shelter ship containing workers, food, and supplies on a one way trip. The workers live in the landed shuttle while they build the base, then move in.

No other way is remotely possible with current machine intelligence or technology.

Still holding PR as the real arguments... (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671422)

It still looks like the real arguments for and against sending humans to live and work at permanent space colonies are ones of pure PR.

On the one hand, you have the "Nya nya! We built one first!" Dick waving type PR, and the other, which I suspect holds more weight, is the "you sent joe sixpack and everything he finds necessary to live and work into space to clutter up another planet. Bravo." type PR.

This is because a space colony is much more than scientists, engineers, and MIT grad astronauts. A space colony is welders, riveters, janitors, (hookers, they WILL turn up), and all the other blue collar labor needed to have things built, and further, all the things they need to be happy doing it, like beer, porn, sports, etc.

The logistics of builing a bonafide space colony are astronomical in comparison to sending robots, even absurdly priced ones, and the robots don't demand hookers and beer.

The real reason why an actual colony is unlikely to be built by any world government is exactly that reason. No self respecting politician wants to be seen as supporting that kind of lifestyle, or worse, showing segregationalist eliteism by screening for only "cookie cutter straight laced" types, regardless of other work qualifications. (That would be a violation of equal employment laws...)

This makes the issue a poisonous one to politicians and governments. They sent astronauts, since those were already on a silver PR platter as being ivy league types. They will never send joe sixpack into space, as long as they can avoid it.

Humans breed faster than Robots (1)

Kittenman (971447) | more than 2 years ago | (#37671724)

... so it's humans that need to get out there and find more places to live and breed. 7 billion down here now ...

By all means use robots to find a good sport to build a house, plant the corn and corral the critters - but it's humans that need to live. Robots can't even do that.

Alien Life Hunters (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37671962)

List of Alien Lifeforms that Astronauts Have Discovered So Far:

Robots in 2030 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37672004)

Whatever we do, it's extremely unlikely that we are going to have mission to Mars before, say, 2030. Now, without making any forecasts for AI, just imagine what robots in 2030 will look like. They'll be perfectly capable of driving or walking around Mars with no human intervention. They will be able to classify rocks or, at the very least, be able to notice something they have not seen before in the terrain. If they miss anything that's seen by their cameras, a whole team of human scientists back on Earth will tell them to go back to point XYZ for further investigations. Best of all, they'll still cost as much as Spirit, Opportunity or Curiosity in 2030 $. That is at least 100x less than a human mission.
A human mission to Mars made sense in the 70s' or 80s'. The more time passes, the less will be the advantage of humans. The window of opportunity of human Mars exploration is gone. Things are even more in favor of robots beyond Mars.
If true AI is then invented by 2030, then there is no point of human exploration ever.

We like people in space 'cause we want to colonize (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37672046)

For better or worse, we are hard wired to spread out into new places. We want to see a human land on mars because it makes it feel like maybe we could move there (whether we want to or not is beside the point, it's about having options).

Said it before, I'll say it again (1)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 2 years ago | (#37672058)

Humans have no business being in space. Period. Robots are cheaper and easier and outside the circle of empathy - they are just machines.Did the robot miss something? Send another one with a different design. Robots are making massive strides in terms of movement and capabilities. Send robots to Mars. Send robots to the moon. Robots don't get grouchy. Robots don't have mental breakdowns half way to Jupiter (fiction not withstanding), robots don't need to eat or shit or breathe. They just need energy and a plan. They don't need to fuck or get pregnant. They don't have to worry about getting cancer from a solar flare. Robots don't have to sleep. Robots don't need recreation or entertainment. . Very simply, humans have no business being in space. Get over it.

Interstellar Drone Seeding (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37672392)

Combining cost-effectiveness with practicality, and, of course, adding the pragmatic, in that the ones with all the money are the Defense Industry Connected, since we have a well-funded Military Drone Program, and military drone operators trained, and the chances of finding real life on extra-stellar planets is sufficiently remote we may ignore amy moral questions, the cost-effective, practical and logical program to put our money and manpower into is Remotely Operated Interstellar Drones, armed with Bio-Missiles.

The Drones, equipped with sensors, will be sent inter-stelllar in likely directions. When one's sensors sense a reasonably "early-Earth-like" planet a signal will be sent back. Upon receipt of the signal a human Drone Operator will take control, survey the potential likely planet for existing life, existing advanced life and existing advanced life potentially dangerous to humans. In event of finding any one of the four, from no life to dangerous life-forms, the Terrestrial Unmanned Rov Driver will survey for best possible release locations and then launch missiles containing terrestrial life biological components into those.

The terrestrial life components may then adapt and grow, be attacked and destroyed by local biological components, attack and destroy local biological components, or adapt and combine with local bio-components to form new life forms and species.

Future probes can check up, and wherever exploitable life, of whatever origin and form, is found to have developed, schedule human missions, to land, to dominate (if necessary) to enslave if workable populations have developed (enslave as draft labor, if necessary, or as workers [prole labor] if possible, since workers, not being provided and so having to provide themselves shelter, feed, etc., can be exploited as consumers to generate additional profits for mission sponsors) and commercially exploit all, planets, populations and resources, organic and inorgnic. Which will cover the costs, of the exploration, the seeding, the dominating, the maintenance of order and management, the resource extraction etc., to provide financial sponsors sufficient profits to attract them.

I mean, we are going to add our micro-biology wherever we go as soon as we cough or exhale, anyway, so why not just get on with it?

Humans In Space (1)

hackus (159037) | more than 2 years ago | (#37672684)

I can tell you why it is important to have human access to space.

Lets start by looking around at how everything is so f*cked up.

You know, a long time ago, you use to be able to flee to foreign lands, or undiscovered countries to get rid of the socia/pschyo inbred leaders that enjoy watching people starve, live in misery or otherwise think because what comes out of their dick makes them royal.

We seem to have come to a impasse now. You can't run anywhere. Tyranny is _EVERYWHERE_. From the nut cases in China who find it is perfectly legit to corral people into pens and work them to death or a democrat, republican, tea party psychopath/socio paths who scramble at the drop of a bankers phone call for more bail out money 10 generations from now will be still paying.

With access to space I can leave. Or, better yet, with access to space we can tell these people TO LEAVE.

That is of itself would be incredibly useful, and worth it to expand humans into space.

-Hack

http://www.disclosureproject.org/ (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37673074)

http://www.disclosureproject.org/

PR... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37673204)

Unless you send Johnny 5, people want what we send to space to have personality. Robots are functional but sterile and boring to people that don't use /. and even some who do.

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