Monday, August 13, 2012

Question 5 -- Human Component of Space Exploration.

In your opinion, what is the relative value of a space exploration program (to low-Earth orbit and beyond) that includes humans as compared to a space exploration program that is conducted exclusively with robotic, uncrewed spacecraft and rovers? That is, to what extent does a human presence add value to a space exploration program, and is it worth the cost and risk?

All life is precious. Among human-endowments that robots lack are sentiency, intelligence, curiosity, appreciation, dexterity, and hopefully wisdom. Humans are more valuable than robots.

Our experiences and the results of our explorations have shown us that robots are capable of exploring the Solar-System very cost-effectively, with many missions running far beyond the project's life-expectancy. Robotic-exploration should be first-choice. Not only for safety-considerations but because driving space-based robotic-operations forward will result in advancements here at home and continue to add to the 'Return-On-Investment' (ROI) for NASA. The current Curiosity-mission is an example of where industry is interested-in everything from it's radiation-hardened-systems to it's Laser-induced-breakdown-spectroscopy (LIBS) instrument.

That said, the decision on when NASA send humans instead of robots should always rest upon the circumstances of the mission. NASA should not restrict exploration entirely to robots. Because of the same prior-mentioned human-endowments there will always be value to having humans in space.

Missions that have a certain-criticality will always require humans to be 'in-the-loop'. To that end NASA must always maintain human presence in space, on planets-and-moons. Learning how humans can live in-space and even more, because it is necessary, learning how humans can actually thrive in-space must be a continuing NASA priority.

Here on earth, the ROI for NASA's Human-Spaceflight-Programs manifests itself in the life-sciences, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, responsible habitation and others, and includes many intangible returns like creating ambition among our young adults.

If one could ask any of our explorers who did not come home if it was worth risking their lives. While that question cannot be asked nor any answers recorded I suspect that it would be a unanimous "YES!"

While a life cannot be qualified or quantified in any tangible terms, just ask ourselves, how many lives do we willingly commit to gaining-inches-in-conflicts vs giant-leaps-for-our-nation?

Is the cost in human lives too high? No.


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