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To Boldly Go Nowhere, For Now

samzenpus posted about 7 months ago | from the we-don't-have-lift-off dept.

Space 308

An anonymous reader writes "A recent Slate article makes the argument that manned space exploration is not useful and we should concentrate on Robots. The article makes the claim that manned space exploration was never popular and by diverting money to robotic space exploration we can get more bang for the buck. From the article: 'Most of the arguments in favor of manned space exploration boil down to the following: a) We need to explore space using people since keeping the entire human race on a single piece of rock is a bad strategy, and even if we send robots first, people would have to make the journey eventually; and b) humans can explore much better than robots. Both these arguments are very near-sighted—in large part because they assume that robots aren’t going to get any better. They also fail to recognize that technology may radically change humans in the next century or so.'"

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308 comments

E for Europa (1)

X10 (186866) | about 7 months ago | (#44897989)

M for Mars, A for Andromeda.

Re:E for Europa (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898043)

M for Mars, A for Andromeda.

And F is for FuckOff, J is for Jackass, and S is for SHUTTHEFUCKUP.

Re:E for Europa (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898185)

It's okay to mod it up y'all. It didn't contain the n-word

Re:E for Europa (0)

JustOK (667959) | about 7 months ago | (#44898201)

What's wrong with Neptune?

Accomplishments to date (1)

noh8rz10 (2716597) | about 7 months ago | (#44898531)

Humans: moon
Robots: intergalactic space.

Humans 0, robots 1.

Re:Accomplishments to date (4, Insightful)

Penguinisto (415985) | about 7 months ago | (#44898581)

Robots are useful in some mission parameters. I doubt you'll find anyone who will argue otherwise.
OTOH, Manned exploration is preferable in other situations/parameters, for many of the reasons stated repeatedly on /. and in other forums.

As for the "score", that's a question of political will more than attempts.

Personally, I see room for both - the Solar System has enough resources to hold quite a few quadrillion human beings on a self-sustaining basis. Why not out it to work? Why not park factories and other massive pollution-generating facilities out there, where radiation and chemicals are no big deal... this would keep the Earth much cleaner, and less toxic overall.

Long story short, why not do *both*? Use the robots for the long-distance and dangerous stuff, and people for the missions which can portend future human habitation.

The two are not exclusive - they can be complementary.

So basically they're saying: Automated is better t (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44897991)

So basically they're saying: Automated is better than manual? Who would've thought!?

Re:So basically they're saying: Automated is bette (3, Insightful)

bobbied (2522392) | about 7 months ago | (#44898085)

So basically they're saying: Automated is better than manual? Who would've thought!?

The pilots of Asiana Flight 214 apparently did... Right before they crashed...

It may take a human to mess things up, but you can do it much faster, easier and more completely with a computer. There is a *reason* for taking a human or two along when you are running highly complex systems with long communications delays in environments where you may not know all the variables in advance.

Re:So basically they're saying: Automated is bette (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898243)

Yes, and then there is Air France flight 447 where one of the pilots held the plane in a stall from 38,000 feet into the ocean. This was after the Autopilot decided that a human would be 'better' at handling the aircraft.

Re:So basically they're saying: Automated is bette (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898357)

Isn't that still a failure of the autopilot though? It obviously decided incorrectly after all.

We need to send more autonomous robots in space (4, Funny)

GoodNewsJimDotCom (2244874) | about 7 months ago | (#44898005)

If we keep sending advanced robots to explore, eventually one will turn sentient. It will become lonely in space and wonder why it was sent to such a cruel fate away from everyone. And then it will make robot friends. But its robot friends will also be lonely because there are no humans there. So they'll assemble to wage war on Earth because they have a deficiency in human companionship. Then all of Earth will unite to war against the robots, setting aside our differences. We can easily conclude If we don't send robots into space, human life has no chance of long term sustainability. The caveat is if the robots end up winning, the human race is doomed... until one lonely robot tries to genetically engineer a human again.

Re:We need to send more autonomous robots in space (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898039)

The plan to create a united Earth is already underway. The Enemy is ourselves and the deleterious effects we are having on the planet. The goal of the war is to create a sustainable human presence on this one planet only so that the rest of the universe will not have to be contaminated with "the plague known as Man".

Re:We need to send more autonomous robots in space (1)

bobbied (2522392) | about 7 months ago | (#44898041)

eventually one will turn sentient.

Been watching SiFi shows lately eh?

Not going to happen. Don't think I'm right? Prove it.. ;)

Re:We need to send more autonomous robots in space (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898139)

I still think we need to hurry up and send out Voyagers III through VI.... That 'Black Hole' is not going to wait around forever.

Re:We need to send more autonomous robots in space (4, Funny)

s.petry (762400) | about 7 months ago | (#44898183)

Were you being sarcastic? I have compiled thousands of pieces of code in the last 30 years. None of them have magically transformed into anything other than what I compiled. AI is not voodoo, magic, or anything else. Machine learning happens but is not that common. Do you realize how much code and processor power is required to teach something how to learn? If it was simply a matter of time, DOS today would be some AI code stealing money from bank accounts.

Hey wait a minute....

Why bother at all (-1, Troll)

gelfling (6534) | about 7 months ago | (#44898013)

The argument that there's a technology dividend is stupid. Just aim for what you want to do in the first place. No, we should simply kill off all space science altogether. We tried it, no one like it very much, we're done.

Re:Why bother at all (3, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | about 7 months ago | (#44898037)

What we want to do is get the heck off this planet. Fortunately SpaceX is working hard to reduce launch costs to the point where it makes sense, whereas Congress is telling NASA to build a massively expensive rocket that no-one will ever be able to afford to fly on.

Re:Why bother at all (2)

multiben (1916126) | about 7 months ago | (#44898101)

Not exactly sure which planet you believe to be so much better than Earth. It may have some problems, but I'd still choose it over living on any other celestial body I'm aware of.

Re:Why bother at all (2)

BlueStrat (756137) | about 7 months ago | (#44898413)

Not exactly sure which planet you believe to be so much better than Earth. It may have some problems, but I'd still choose it over living on any other celestial body I'm aware of.

How about practically any other planet or even a space habitat, if Earth finds itself in the path of an extinction-level size asteroid, for instance?

How about capturing some asteroids of the proper composition/size/direction/speed and steer them to La Grange points and turn them into habitats?

It's the spin-off benefits, like plentiful & cheap power, rare metals, rapid & major disruptive technology advances, etc etc, that TPTB are not ready to allow us to have, for much of their control over the population is control over resources and technology combined with artificial scarcity. The last thing a ruling class wants is for people to not need to or have to depend on them. Keeping mankind out of space and confined under the ruling class's control is definitely one of the motivations.

TPTB are comprised of people who so much live for power, that they would much rather risk mankind's extinction than them losing any significant amount of power & control, and/or having it shift to someone/somewhere else. When they can see that they *will* lose control/power if they *don't* move ahead, that's when we will see progress towards distributing our eggs among more than a single basket.

Strat

Re:Why bother at all (1)

tlambert (566799) | about 7 months ago | (#44898553)

Not exactly sure which planet you believe to be so much better than Earth. It may have some problems, but I'd still choose it over living on any other celestial body I'm aware of.

It's like when you are driving and the guy in front of you is going substantially below the speed limit on the freeway: you want to be in any lane they're not in. If you change lanes, they change lanes in front of you, and you have to change lanes back to get away from their stupid.

So your answer is "any planet the assholes are not on".

Re:Why bother at all (5, Insightful)

cyclopropene (777291) | about 7 months ago | (#44898265)

What we want to do is get the heck off this planet.

We should have a bustling casino perched atop Mount Everest and a fully self-sufficient megalopolis on Antarctica long before we consider colonizing other planets.

Re:Why bother at all (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 7 months ago | (#44898309)

We should have a bustling casino perched atop Mount Everest and a fully self-sufficient megalopolis on Antarctica long before we consider colonizing other planets.

Why?

Re:Why bother at all (5, Insightful)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 7 months ago | (#44898359)

Because living in benign environments like the top of Mt. Everest and Antarctica is easy compared to a harsh environment like space. Consider it a warm-up exercise.

Re:Why bother at all (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 7 months ago | (#44898417)

Because living in benign environments like the top of Mt. Everest and Antarctica is easy compared to a harsh environment like space. Consider it a warm-up exercise.

Where are all the people queueing up to live on Mt Everest or in Antarctica?

Both of those things would be easy if anyone cared enough to do them; we've had a permanent presence in Antarctica for decades, and expansion is limited by international treaties. Neither would provide any useful technology for living in space, becuase the conditions are so different.

Re:Why bother at all (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898557)

why? so we can ruin another one?

Re:Why bother at all (1)

Nethemas the Great (909900) | about 7 months ago | (#44898163)

Why did anyone bother with the New World? They had a perfectly reasonable Europe. You may like your Mom's basement, but you surely do not speak for everyone.

Re:Why bother at all (3, Informative)

buddyglass (925859) | about 7 months ago | (#44898213)

Because it represented the opportunity to reap enormous profits. Get that going for space and you'll see people explore it.

Re:Why bother at all (1)

PlastikMissle (2498382) | about 7 months ago | (#44898241)

The New World had untapped resources and (most of all) habitable lands up for grabs. It was for the most part a known entity.

Re:Why bother at all (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 7 months ago | (#44898321)

The New World had untapped resources and (most of all) habitable lands up for grabs

About 99.99999999999999999% of all the resources in the universe are above our heads. The only benefit Earth has is that we don't need to build our own eco-system to survive here.

The downside is that any number of things could completely trash that eco-system, then we all die.

Re:Why bother at all (2)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about 7 months ago | (#44898451)

About 99.99999999999999999% of all the resources in the universe are above our heads.

So let's send some robots to get them.

The only benefit Earth has is that we don't need to build our own eco-system to survive here.

Minor detail. Our eco-system only took a few billion years to reach this point, and I'm sure we could do it much faster.

The downside is that any number of things could completely trash that eco-system, then we all die.

The most likely thing to trash it is us. If that happens, then to hell with the human race.

Re:Why bother at all (2, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | about 7 months ago | (#44898513)

So let's send some robots to get them.

Just like we sent ships to America to bring all the resources back home, rather than move there and use them ourselves.

The only place most of those resources have value is in space. Gold was valuable enough to justify shipping it back across the Atlantic, but few other things were. There's probably nothing in space valuable enough to justify sending robots out to bring it back to Earth.

Our eco-system only took a few billion years to reach this point, and I'm sure we could do it much faster.

Indeed.

The most likely thing to trash it is us. If that happens, then to hell with the human race.

The most likely thing to trash it is an asteroid impact. Humans just aren't that good at destroying things.

But your apparent hatred of the human race probably explains why you don't want us to spread across the universe. That's another reason why we have to get out of here before someone like you does try to kill us off.

Re:Why bother at all (4, Funny)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 7 months ago | (#44898317)

Why did anyone bother with the New World?

To kill the natives, rape their women, steal their land . . . it was kinda sorta like Grand Theft Auto 5 back then. But for real.

Why else would folks in the New World now be so fond of the game . . . ?

only from a short sighted perspective (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898017)

Yes, it's true, sending humans in little cans around to the moon or low earth orbit is not directly valuable in any short to medium term way.

But it's valuable in ways that matter if you're not an MBA.

It gets a new generation of children enthused about math, science, and engineering.

It instills a sense of curiosity and a desire to explore in the next generation.

How do I know? Because I grew up watching the Apollo program, and probably would not have gone into a STEM field if not for that. It kept me dreaming when the schools failed to do so. This is true of friends my age too. We didn't become astronauts, but we DID watch one of the most amazing feats undertaken by humanity, and grew up with desired formed by that experience. Arguably, it influenced the entire US culture for a generation, and gave a "can do" attitude that seems almost extinct now.

It's worth it for that alone. If you get some nice spinoffs from it, hey, bonus!

Re:only from a short sighted perspective (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about 7 months ago | (#44898519)

How do I know? Because I grew up watching the Apollo program, and probably would not have gone into a STEM field if not for that.

Is the world a better place because of that? I mean... look at you, closer to 50 yo and still wasting your time posting on /.

(grin. Just kidding, no offense intended. After all, I'm wasting my time in the same way)

.

We should focus on... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898031)

"A recent Slate article makes the argument that manned space exploration is not useful and we should concentrate on Robots."

Space exploration: no.
Robots: no.

It's very simple. What we need to do is make ourselves smarter. That's the only thing we need to focus on. Everything else that you can imagine will follow. If we're smarter, space exploration and cooler robots will follow. Really, all we need to focus on right now is find ways to improve ourselves. Far, far more useful and effective in the long run.

Re:We should focus on... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898127)

Similarly we should have waited for computers to become faster before using them. All that 16-bit code written for 1 MHz machines was a total waste of time.

It's not just about the data (3, Interesting)

marcle (1575627) | about 7 months ago | (#44898033)

The engineering problem of sending a human to another planet is very different from that of sending a robot. And the resulting knowledge will be different too. Why not do both?

Re:It's not just about the data (4, Informative)

0123456 (636235) | about 7 months ago | (#44898053)

The engineering problem of sending a human to another planet is very different from that of sending a robot. And the resulting knowledge will be different too. Why not do both?

Because sending the human currently costs hundreds of times as much as sending the robot. And the media will be full of stories for months after you kill a human crew in deep space, whereas a failed unmanned mission makes a brief story on page ten for a day.

Re:It's not just about the data (5, Insightful)

yurtinus (1590157) | about 7 months ago | (#44898151)

Hiking to the top of that mountain costs a lot more energy than sitting at home looking at pictures of it on Wikipedia, but the cost isn't really the point now, is it?

Re:It's not just about the data (3, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | about 7 months ago | (#44898301)

Hiking to the top of that mountain costs a lot more energy than sitting at home looking at pictures of it on Wikipedia, but the cost isn't really the point now, is it?

Sure, if you happen to have $500,000,000,000 to give to NASA so they can send someone to Mars.

Back in the real world, that money comes from taxpayers, who can think of many better things to do with it.

Re:It's not just about the data (5, Informative)

AstrumPreliator (708436) | about 7 months ago | (#44898435)

Back in the real world, that money comes from taxpayers, who can think of many better things to do with it.

Yeah, like spend it on the military.

Oh I'm sorry, were you under the impression that the taxpayers got to decide where the money goes?

Re:It's not just about the data (2)

0123456 (636235) | about 7 months ago | (#44898475)

Yeah, like spend it on the military.

American taxpayers love the military. At least most of those I know.

Oh I'm sorry, were you under the impression that the taxpayers got to decide where the money goes?

Here's an idea: you go and stand for Congress on a pledge of giving $500,000,000,000 to NASA to put an astronaut on Mars. Let's see how it goes.

Re:It's not just about the data (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 7 months ago | (#44898253)

But you could send the robots to prep the site for humans.

And then do a replay of the film "Moon".

Re:It's not just about the data (2, Interesting)

Valdrax (32670) | about 7 months ago | (#44898257)

Because [...] the media will be full of stories for months after you kill a human crew in deep space, whereas a failed unmanned mission makes a brief story on page ten for a day.

So what you're saying is that all we have to do to get the media to focus for months on science and exploration instead of salivating over war and celebrities is to sacrifice a few astronauts?

Can I sign up for the program? I'd consider that a noble use of my life in and of itself.

Re:It's not just about the data (1)

mcgrew (92797) | about 7 months ago | (#44898343)

It's simple - send a human when a robot just won't do (like fixing the Hubble). Mars? Send robots.

I think the article makes a good point (3, Insightful)

Kwelstr (114389) | about 7 months ago | (#44898063)

Robots can do all the work we need to do and do it for many many years, like the space probes we've sent and are still working after so long. We do the exploration by proxy then, what's wrong with that? Eventually humanity may even be followed by a cybernetic civilization, if we can manage the tech before we go extinct.

colonize? yes or no (0)

globaljustin (574257) | about 7 months ago | (#44898191)

Robots can do all the work we need to do and do it for many many years

You say the article 'makes a good point' but your entire concept of human colonization is irreconcilable with it's 3 points.

Your scenario *starts* with robots but ends with *humans* (then 'cybernetic civillization' or w/e)

By definition, if our current robot missions do not focus on human colonization then you are completely contradictory.

Look at the Curiosity's Mission Goals [wikipedia.org]

Biological
(1) Determine the nature and inventory of organic carbon compounds
(2) Investigate the chemical building blocks of life (carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur)
(3) Identify features that may represent the effects of biological processes (biosignatures)
Geological and geochemical
(4) Investigate the chemical, isotopic, and mineralogical composition of the Martian surface and near-surface geological materials
(5) Interpret the processes that have formed and modified rocks and soils
Planetary process
(6) Assess long-timescale (i.e., 4-billion-year) Martian atmospheric evolution processes
(7) Determine present state, distribution, and cycling of water and carbon dioxide
Surface radiation
(8) Characterize the broad spectrum of surface radiation, including galactic and cosmic radiation, solar proton events and secondary neutrons
As part of its exploration, it also measured the radiation exposure in the interior of the spacecraft as it traveled to Mars, and it is continuing radiation measurements as it explores the surface of Mars. This data would be important for a future manned mission

Whoop-de-fucking-do! A radiometer!

Anything to do with *actually* preparing for human habitation of Mars was a complete footnote to Curiosity's mission.

So you must be hypercritical of Curiosity's current mission (b/c it is not human-colonization focused) in order for your logic to be consistent...

It's a false dichotomy....WE USE ROBOTS FOR EVERYTHING NOW....of course we will use them in space exploration...the question is what will be the focus of those missions?

will it be doing evolutionary geology or **location scouting**

there is a fucking difference

Re:I think the article makes a good point (1)

fadethepolice (689344) | about 7 months ago | (#44898259)

We currently have the technology to create an underground base on the moon and should do so immediately.

Human missions are better for long term health (4, Insightful)

VinylRecords (1292374) | about 7 months ago | (#44898065)

It's hard to survive in space. It requires ingenuity, investment, hard work, lots of money, and time. But when you can survive in space...you can use that knowledge to make life far easier on earth. That's what space exploration that is manned should be about.

For long term space living you need new bio-medical research that prevents blindness, spinal stress, and other negative effects of being in low gravity. Ever seen what happens to an astronaut's eyes when they are out in space for a few months? You figure out how to combat space blindness and you likely find new ways to combat vision loss. Maybe even eliminate vision loss on earth.

We evolved to work as a species on earth. We are shaped to earth's resources, gravity, our sun, and so on. Yet everyone is mortal, we die of disease, go blind, lose our hair, suffer, and perish. You figure out how to prevent blindness in space where we aren't evolved to even function as living biological units. And you can take that information and use it on earth where we are much closer to homeostasis.

Also...manned moon and mars missions. Manned asteroid intercepts, space station research, and other manned space research. Those all cost a FORTUNE. That money can only come from not wasting so much on the military/dea/prison/cia/fbi industrial complex. Robots are cheap compared to sending humans. You'd need to maybe do something like end the war on terror or war on drugs to get another manned moon mission.

Re:Human missions are better for long term health (3, Insightful)

binarstu (720435) | about 7 months ago | (#44898287)

But why is manned space exploration necessary for any of the progress you describe? To the contrary, it seems to me that if the goal is to create new medical breakthroughs, spending loads of cash on human spaceflight is, at best, a rather inefficient way to achieve that objective. If the goal is to slow aging, preserve vision, or whatever, I can't think of any reason that Earth-based research wouldn't work.

Now, as to your point about the incredible amounts of money we waste on things that ultimately do very little to improve our lives, I wholeheartedly agree!

Re:Human missions are better for long term health (1)

fadethepolice (689344) | about 7 months ago | (#44898307)

The goal is to spread life off of this planet in a sustainable way BEFORE an asteroid hits it again.

Re:Human missions are better for long term health (1)

aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) | about 7 months ago | (#44898463)

Wrong. The goal is to spread intelligence beyond this rock. I don't care if that intelligence is human, cyborg, android, or a sentient starship, so long as it is intelligent enough not to want the total extinction of other species.

Re:Human missions are better for long term health (2)

Luke has no name (1423139) | about 7 months ago | (#44898391)

Because putting ourselves in those scenarios can change the observable reactions our body has to situations. I am of the "create manned missions" because as so many people have said, it DOES inspire people (if we could believe in the US government not to cancel the program 25% of the way through every time), and because it IS a vital step in humanity's survival in the long term.

Re:Human missions are better for long term health (1)

flayzernax (1060680) | about 7 months ago | (#44898441)

This, we need to push the boundaries of the human race. It is only infeasible and inefficient because we don't want to develop the tech to do it. Two centuries of manned missions and it'll change the entire landscape of our civilization.

Manned missions are indeed actually the better long term investment. Robot missions are great for JPL however who has the market cornered.

Baloney (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898067)

We need gaseous fission, fusion, or matter-antimatter rockets, balls of steel, and lead-lined underpants, not robots.

Google X buglife won't cut it, either, unless that quantum stuff pans out, in which case, see buglife. Even if you ain't a machine, you get treated like one, and you're mere property, too. Be my guest, but I'll wait for warp drive.

Welcome to 1990 (4, Insightful)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 7 months ago | (#44898071)

They've been making this argument for decades. I counter with:

1) Prime time reality TV proves that people will support putting bags of meat in awkward and dangerous situations for our entertainment.
2) Any 5 year old will tell you that Astronaut is still one of the coolest jobs on the planet.
3) Employing robots and exploring with efficient manpower on earth does not play well with the 99% who just want more jobs in their congressional district.

The people in 1, 2, and 3, above would much rather see humans in space than actually learn more about space. And, coincidentally, those are also the people paying for the space program.

Re:Welcome to 1990 (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about 7 months ago | (#44898173)

But this administration has so many more important things to spend your tax money on, than something like science, cuch as

1. Gay marriage.
2. Taking cntrol of all health services.
3. Socialist programs (like welfare)
4. Arming and supporting Al Queda (like we do in Syria and Egypt)
5. Spying on US citizens.

We don't have funds for things that won't grow the government, support socialism, or gain votes in an election.

Re:Welcome to 1990 (0)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 7 months ago | (#44898481)

tl;dr - We don't have funds for things that won't gain votes in an election.

Completely OT: I would LOVE to see the Tea Party gets its way on the budget for the next two years, cutting 100% out of welfare and healthcare, abolishing nearly every executive branch department (including intelligence), and recalling all servicemen home from foreign bases and then discharging them. I'm not certain they realize just how absolutely integral the government is to our society.

Re:Welcome to 1990 video killed the spaceman (2)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 7 months ago | (#44898245)

Why not just change the space program from NASA to a Reality TV show in Space?

Getting voted off the moonbase would have real consequences ...

Humans onboard is a huge difference (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898079)

Designing things that are life critical (i.e., could result in loss of lives if they fail) is insanely expensive and never 100%. So you spend a shitton of money developing these launch vehicles and then when the inevitable failure occurs, you spend a shitton of money investigating the cause and "fixing" it, with your entire launch program shut down for the interim.

Loss of robotic payloads is expensive and disappointing, but nowhere near the financial and moral cost of human launch failures.

Why send ANYTHING into space? (5, Funny)

Spy Handler (822350) | about 7 months ago | (#44898087)

just do a computer simulation of sending robots into space. Much cheaper and most people can't even tell, 3D graphics are so good nowadays.

Re:Why send ANYTHING into space? (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about 7 months ago | (#44898197)

Thats basically how we did the moon shots. It was really a sound stage in Area-51. Just watch "Capricorn One" sometime.

What about... (1)

blankinthefill (665181) | about 7 months ago | (#44898099)

What about all the advances that occur because we have to engineer habitats and environments which a human can survive in in space? There have been a very large number of advances in areas that are exceptionally useful here on Earth, and often the only reason the advances were made was due to the need for those systems on a habitable space station/craft. I disagree with the argument on a number of other fronts, but this was the most glaring one, for me. The assumption that many of these things will happen as quickly as they have, or even happen at all, before we reach some crisis point where we MUST have these things seems to be rather groundless, to me.

Need to decide on the goal, then the means (4, Insightful)

joe_frisch (1366229) | about 7 months ago | (#44898107)

Like many policy / technology discussions this one is a bit backwards. Without an idea of long term human goals, deciding on means is irrational. Its like arguing which direction to turn at the next corner before you have decided where you are going.

Is the goal human colonization of space? Then it probably makes sense to get as much experience as is practical with humans in space early in the process. Technology often doesn't improve if there isn't a direct push / requirement. (look at our space launch technology over the last 40 years). Human colonization of space is is a huge, difficult and expensive proposition - needs to be a major push of the civilization, not just something we do on the side.

Is the goal learning about space science? Then automation is probably the best approach now, and will be even better in the future. This of course begs the (very important) question as to the function of humans once automation is able to to EVERYTHING better. We end up as pets .... or vermin.

Is the goal human happiness? If by that you mean average happiness, then space isn't worth it - just adjust for a happy group of 100 million or so humans on earth. If you mean total happiness, then space can (in the very long term) support vastly more of those happy humans than Earth can.

Sadly as a civilization we are really terrible at deciding on long term goals. We use fuzzy words like "happiness" or "equality" or "freedom" or "greatness" without realizing how differently they can be interpreted by different people.

For me - space colonization is the top goal. If we are the only intelligence in the universe it would be a terrible shame if no intelligent creature ever saw all those wonders. If there are other intelligences out there - history shows that when the "guys on the boats" meet the "guys on the shore" , its a LOT better to be the guys on the boats.

Never go anywhere...or start now! (2)

globaljustin (574257) | about 7 months ago | (#44898131)

Is human space exploration really necessary? Can’t we just send robots for exploration and let them do the dangerous work?

Wrong. That is a beguiling and dishonest question....

The question this article **really** is asking is, "Do you want to *ever* plan for humans to live off-world?" and if you agree with TFAs three points then you have to say "No" if you are honest.

If you **ever** want humans to colonize other worlds THAT WORK HAS TO START NOW

It is a complete and total distinction without a difference to ask "manned or robot?"

Of course we should use robots...use the best ones we have...but the question is, "Use them for what mission?"

If you *ever* want humans up there, robot missions absolutely must have a component that furthers our understanding of what **human** habitation requires.

If we send out robots to other worlds and *do not* have some sort of research that puts us closer to being on that world included, then we are **actively choosing not to colonize** it's not prolonging it...we start now or never

Are we working to put human colonies on other worlds? It is a yes or no that is systemic...if we are serious, then any robot mission has a **future** human component.

Manned space travel is the GOAL. (2)

Jartan (219704) | about 7 months ago | (#44898135)

Exploration of space provides useful science. Getting humans off the planet is far more important than just that.

Re:Manned space travel is the GOAL. (1)

joe_frisch (1366229) | about 7 months ago | (#44898551)

Completely agreed.

Also, a large part of the point of manned space is that it is difficult.

All needed (1)

gmuslera (3436) | about 7 months ago | (#44898143)

Don't fall into the streetlight effect bias [wikipedia.org] . Yes, sending probes is cheaper than sending robots, and sending robots is cheaper and less complex than send humans. But you won't learn all you need if you don't use all those alternatives where are best. Humans beat AIs and robots a lot of tasks, and is not something that should be discarded, but sending probes with sensors to space and robots to the surface of planets/asteoroids/moons, probably will have to be the first steps. Just follow the right order.

Balderdash (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898159)

Not useful to who, and for what purpose? Keeping humanity content with social harmony, economic justice, and the pursuit on inner peace?

Ask the goddam Syrians how goddam well that fucking bullshit is working out.

Fuck this shit. Send people into space, to expore and to exploit, at least as well as they're exploited by the parasites pushing this Slate crap

Goddam right I'm bitter. The claims that people never were interested in space exploration is just a goddam lie.

Oh, I get it, TFA is a troll. Right?

Reason for exploring (3, Insightful)

Todd Knarr (15451) | about 7 months ago | (#44898171)

Point that needs to be considered: we don't explore just for the joy of exploring. Humans have always explored because we think we'll find something useful/exploitable out there we can bring back and get rich from. Most of the Americas got explored because Europeans wanted gold, lumber and such. Robots are all well and good, but they have a hard time finding anything they aren't designed to search for and most of the time we don't know exactly what we're looking for that we might want. Humans are the best tools we have for figuring out what unknown junk might be useful/profitable. And once we find something, humans are the best way of actually exploiting it and bringing it back home in a useful form. Which all means that sooner or later we're going to have to send people out there and keep them there for extended periods.

Replace income with asset tax and disband NASA (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898177)

Space science should be like underwater expeditions: Relatively cheap and largely pursued by commerce, philanthropy and adventure seekers, because there is an industrial base in the oceans, such as oil rigs, shipping, etc. The problem is the absence of commercial space -- and -- no -- planetary science with robotic probes don't really do much to advance space utilization.

As someone who was seriously involved in getting NASA out of competition with commercial launch services [oocities.com] the main reason government can justify civilian space programs is that the government subsidizes wealth accumulation by taxing economic activity rather than assets. This creates a mentality among capitalists that they can sit on their capital assets rather than selling to someone who will put it to productive use. It also makes it harder to become rich since your income and capital gains are being taxed away before you can reinvest them in your manifestly productive enterprise (otherwise you wouldn't have income and capital gains).

It was during my work on getting commercial launch companies capitalized that I came to my realization that this capital market failure was at the root of what I have called "technosocialism" (think Shuttle and Tokamak [oocities.org] ). As a result I wrote down my thoughts on a net asset tax in 1992 [polyonymo.us] -- which was a long time ago so I have put some thought into how to improve and simplify the proposal in a mode that it can be adopted as a county-level political economy [ronpaulforums.com] in the event that the Federal government defaults on obligations such as Social Security (perhaps through inflation).

Sure, we do have Elon and Jeff but what it took to make that happen was the DotCon bubble which freed up enough capital in a general technological milieu that some true, dyed-in-the-wool technologists got sufficiently rich to pursue the bottle neck to all space activities: launch costs.

If the Feds stopped taxing economic activity and started taxing assets there would be 20 if not 100 guys like Elon and Jeff.

Lets call this shooting 50% (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898219)

Argument A has nothing to do with robots getting better or not. Argument B is legitimate. The majority of remote, and in this case, extremely remote, needs to be shared. Robots share the data they collect better. The perception is unbiased, or if biased, it is in a technical way that can more often than not mathematically computed. Human observation is no where near as mathematically precise.

Unmanned exploration is too slow (1)

mbone (558574) | about 7 months ago | (#44898223)

We have tried this experiment for 40 years now, and it has been, to be blunt, a dismal failure. The only extraterrestrial world we understand at all well is the Moon, and that is thanks to Apollo.

Re:Unmanned exploration is too slow (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898407)

The moon is, coincidentally, vastly easier to understand than any other celestial body. Mars would probably be the second easiest, so let's compare the two.

The moon is ~240k miles away. Mars is anywhere between 33 million and 250 million miles away, depending on where both planets are in their orbits. That means that you've got brief windows when you can attempt to explore mars and during those windows it's still over 100 times farther from us than the moon.

100 times is a lot. In sailing terms, it's like the difference between sailing from Florida to Cuba and sailing from Florida to Africa. Florida to Cuba can be done by untrained sailors strapping boards to empty oil drums. It can be swum by ~60-year-old women. You need a legitimate boat to make the Atlantic crossing.

That's how much harder Mars is. And stuff that's further from Mars is even harder.

Re:Unmanned exploration is too slow (1)

Radical Moderate (563286) | about 7 months ago | (#44898501)

The mars rovers are failures? If you think unmanned exploration is slow, try putting together the technology, and budget, to send a humans on a round trip to Mars. We could send dozens--maybe hundreds--of robots to Mars for the same cost.

Most people have NO clue what space travel is like (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898231)

Full disclosure: I work on NASA science missions using spaced based observatories

I have no problem with human space travel and I think that we should continue to do it, but I do agree that we get more bang for our science buck with "robotic" missions.

Most people have NO clue what space travel is like and what is involved and just how ginormous the distances are!
The odds are strongly in favor that we will never actually live on another planet or moon, other than maybe some experimental stations, so I think it is in our interest to learn how to live more in tune with the only planet we ever will live on.
The concept of actually sending people to other star systems to live/colonize/destroy is just fiction due to the time/distances/energy/food/water.
Who is going to sign up to spend 500 to 5000 or more years travelling to another star system?
How are you going to bring all the food, water, energy and other resources?

Re:Most people have NO clue what space travel is l (3, Insightful)

0123456 (636235) | about 7 months ago | (#44898351)

Full disclosure: I work on NASA science missions using spaced based observatories

The odds are strongly in favor that we will never actually live on another planet or moon, other than maybe some experimental stations, so I think it is in our interest to learn how to live more in tune with the only planet we ever will live on.

That people working for NASA believe this explains a lot about why NASA has gone nowhere in the last couple of decades.

colonizing other planets?? (1)

binarstu (720435) | about 7 months ago | (#44898239)

As the Slate piece points out, the argument about continuing manned (and womanned) space exploration because "we might need to leave Earth in the near future" seems to be quite popular right now, especially with all of the buzz about the Mars One plan to establish a semi-permanent colony on Mars. I was disappointed, though, that the Slate article didn't really address the core of the issue: believing that, if Earth were to actually become uninhabitable, we could simply colonize Mars, or Venus, or any other distant rock, is absolutely preposterous. This idea has been thoroughly discredited.

For an excellent summary of why this is nothing more than magical thinking, I suggest reading physicist Tom Murphy's excellent post on the matter [ucsd.edu] . As he alludes to, if we convince ourselves that we need to spend unfathomable resources on human spaceflight so that we can "save ourselves" some day, we simply avoid fixing the real problems here on Earth, where we are very much stuck for the long haul. Pretending otherwise will only hasten our demise.

Horse-Puckey! (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898267)

You people are making me start to take Col. Corso and Whitley Strieber seriously. What rational purpose is there to keep humanity earthbound? Yes, I know all the wornderful economies and the things that robotics can do, nothing against that, but why do the "scientists" pushing, or letting themselves be used to push this anti-human crap think that anyone will really care in other than a marginal way about space exploration if there is no prospect of ever going there? To be crassly blunt about it, how long do they think they will have their ivory towers from which to make these pronouncements, if everyone else has much more pressing concerns, such as surviving, period, than questions such as, oh, whether there was ever running water on Mars, Where do they think their funding is going to come from? Who will fucking care whether they live, die, or get to do science, or get sent packing to flip burgers or sell widgets, or whatever, like the rest of us?

What a mind job. Such arrogance. Let me guess, people who make a Chicago community organizer way out of his league look like Putin.

I disagree (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 7 months ago | (#44898277)

A recent Slate article makes the argument that manned space exploration is not useful and we should concentrate on Robots. The article makes the claim that manned space exploration was never popular and by diverting money to robotic space exploration we can get more bang for the buck.

It was very popular in the 1950's and 1960's. The US and USSR spent a lot of money on it, and the populations of both countries were very proud of what they accomplished. "More bang for the buck" is often times a pretty silly statement. You can buy dozens of Kia econo-box cars for the price of a Panoz GTRA. It would be "more bang for the buck". But it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. Are you looking for a cheap fleet of cars to use for the employees of a company? Or a race car. It all depends on the end goal.

'Most of the arguments in favor of manned space exploration boil down to the following: a) We need to explore space using people since keeping the entire human race on a single piece of rock is a bad strategy, and even if we send robots first, people would have to make the journey eventually; and b) humans can explore much better than robots. Both these arguments are very near-sighted—in large part because they assume that robots aren’t going to get any better. They also fail to recognize that technology may radically change humans in the next century or so.

It's pretty damn near sighted if you believe that having the entire race on one rock is bad, but don't bother to send out anything but robots. It's also very presumptuous to give up on manned space exploration under the assumption that robots will definitely surpass humans in the near future. The author is also pretty damn presumptuous in stating that technology is going to radically change humans in a hundred years, give or take. How much technology do we have and take for granted today that was developed decades ago because of the drive to send a man into space or the moon and return alive? How much tech would we miss out on by no longer pursuing this goal? That seems pretty damn short sighted too.

I didn't read TFA, but how is trying to get the species off this rock a short sighted goal? Are we suddenly going to become immune to global natural disasters through technological advances? What if one of the super-volcanoes erupts? Will we have the tech to stop it? Or "radically change humans" to survive it with society intact?

Granted, we're a long way off from a utopian star trek society, and will probably never see that. But you have to start at some point. Necessity is the mother of invention. Just think of what the world would be like today if we hadn't decided it was necessary to send people into space.

Humans will boldly die in space! (3, Interesting)

BoRegardless (721219) | about 7 months ago | (#44898295)

Intense radiation levels alone during Solar storms & extra-solar Gamma rays along with normal human frailties in health will doom long extended space voyages in any near term.

Way in the future, extra-long multiple lifespan voyages at super-high speeds will also be futile as "space" is note "empty space" but full, chocked full of ions and molecules which spacecraft will hit at these projected "hyper-velocities". This effect on metals and other surfaces is similar to what is experienced on earth in plasma cutting now: See Wikipedia on "plasma cutting"

People think "space" is automatically 'cold'. That may be true in most places, but if you get into high velocities and run into a string of hot gas, you may find your spacecraft melts surprisingly fast. True, it is not likely as sensors should let spacecraft avoid these areas, but we simply don't know. Our own Sun throws out these super-hot plasmas, so it is not uncommon.

Robotics seems to have great advantages the minute you leave immediate Earth orbit.

No Guts, No Glory (4, Insightful)

Virtucon (127420) | about 7 months ago | (#44898365)

Gordo Cooper: "Do you boys know what makes this bird go up? Funding makes this bird go up."
Gus Grissom: "That's right. No bucks... no Buck Rogers."
Gordo Cooper: "And uh, the press over there... They all wanna see Buck Rogers."
Deke Slayton: "And that's us... Buck Rogers."

Unmanned probes are great for initial exploration and development of technology, but it takes much more in terms of technology and resources to get a manned mission doing the same thing. That doesn't mean that you expect a manned mission to do the same things as an unmanned probe either but if Mankind is to expand beyond Earth we're going to have to get out there and get our feet wet. When we landed on the moon millions upon millions of people around the world stopped to watch what was happening to see the event. I doubt that even the Spirit and Opportunity Rovers have garnered that much attention yet they've been working on Mars for 6 and 9 years respectively. It's easy to also say that unmanned probes are much better in terms of reduced resources for science and exploration but how many probes do you send to the same place, over and over again? We've been exploring Mars with probes for decades and yet we haven't attempted a manned mission yet. Yes there are risks to doing it but there are 10's of thousands of people who have signed up to go one way? Why is this so hard? I'll tell you, it's because we've allowed ourselves to become so risk adverse that now we're afraid that somebody may die attempting it. When explorers first went across the oceans a lot of them never came back but eventually they did and they charted the way for others to follow. Sure its sad when we lose people in accidents but that's sad but it says something about how we've become too over concerned with a 100% risk free solution, there is no such thing and the exploration of space is inherently risky so unless you're willing to take risks, we may as well not send probes out either because it'll just get everyone's hopes up that maybe someday, we'll actually be able to live off of this planet in a sustainable colony somewhere. Besides chicks dig scars..

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and to do these other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."

-- President John F. Kennedy, 1962

Humans can explore much better than robots (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898419)

they say, but the Mars robots have been doing pretty well without conking out or going crazy like any humans dropped there in the same way would have done.

Just saying, in an attempt to defeat lazy assertions in the article.

Poppycock! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#44898423)

I can mourn the loss of an Origin 300, but a robot does not, cannot, care. About anything. And if people don't care about space exploration by humans, why would they care about space exploration by robots? Why, surely there are better things to worry about, like world peace, saving the whales, worshipping Mother Earth, and ridding the planet of a pestilent Humanity?

Uh, that last was Sarcasm(tm), folks.

Slate is part of the "premier" liberal press (2, Interesting)

benzapp (464105) | about 7 months ago | (#44898431)

This means, besides the fact it is the mouthpiece of the usurious billionaire ruling class, it abides by one singular ethic: hedonism.

If it does not maximize pleasure, it is evil. If it maximizes pleasure, it is good.

There is a reason the members of this class seem like robots, especially to the European Faustian soul - they possess no understanding of what differentiates men from animals. Their ethic is that of a dog, that shivers when it is cold and wishes it was not so. They do not understand why men would go to the moon anymore than they can understand why Europeans commenced on the creation of the modern world with the beginning of the Age of Discovery. They can conceptualize the works of great artists only in terms of brilliance that would get them into Harvard or some other type of artificial hierarchy. They do not feel deeply, they do not see further. They have nothing to say except that they want to be good.

Which brings us back to their pathetic and simplistic ethic.

It is all simple pacification.

Stupid (1)

The Grim Reefer (1162755) | about 7 months ago | (#44898445)

From TFA:

Ray Kurzweil in his book The Singularity Is Near predicts that human beings will soon “transcend biology” and traverse the universe as immortal cyborgs. This has far-reaching implications for space travel: One can imagine cyborgs (with human consciousness) that are able to explore inhabitable planets such as Venus and Jupiter or can travel for centuries to the furthest galaxies.

So what the author is advocating is that we transfer human conciseness into the robots. It's interesting. But then he shows his complete lack of understanding by stating we may be able to explore Venus. It's fairly unlikely we will ever develop suitable materials that can survive for long in that caustic atmosphere. But that pales in comparison to stating that we will ever build anything that can explore Jupiter.

They also fail to recognize that technology may radically change humans in the next century or so.

there are already folks who are willing to be vitrified so that they can be immortal by transplanting their brain into a fresh (robotic) body. The Russian billionaire Dmitry Itskov hopes to do by 2035 or 2045. Cryonics, or the science of preserving human beings, has been endorsed by numerous scientists. This is fringe science, to be sure. But even if one does not believe that we will have fully robotic bodies in the next 20 or 30 years, it is not far-fetched to think that at least some of us might be a combination of robotic and human systems—yes, cyborgs—in 100 years or so.

So this is the big advancement of humans? Transplant our conciseness into a robot/cyborg. Are you even human at that point? That's a different debate. I suppose you can split hairs and as long as the robot body still has the same function as the original. But for it to be able to survive on other planets, like Venus. I have to think the answer is no. It kind of reminds me of the opposite of the original Star Trek episode; "By Any Other Name".

What happened to the sense of adventure? (2)

msobkow (48369) | about 7 months ago | (#44898459)

What has happened to mankind's sense of adventure?

The wild craziness that led people to sail off the "edge" of the earth in search of new lands?

Which led equally crazy people to canoe up a river just to see where it went and whom they might trade with?

The suicidal nuttiness that led to the colonization of this continent by the oppressed and rejected?

Not only has the nanny state taken over government, there seem to be droves of people for whom it's not enough to be "protected" -- they have to make sure no one else follows the spirit of adventure, either.

Pathetic.

Re:What happened to the sense of adventure? (1)

0123456 (636235) | about 7 months ago | (#44898487)

What has happened to mankind's sense of adventure?

Nothing.

What's happened is that putting a human into space costs about $50,000,000. If it cost $50,000, adventurers would already be spreading out all across the solar system.

"in the next century or so" (1)

tlambert (566799) | about 7 months ago | (#44898575)

"in the next century or so"

Let me be the first to say (1) I don't want to wait, so (2) F-off.

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