My research on space exploration has brought up many things I haven’t thought about before, including the use of technology in space exploration. This got me thinking about whether or not technology will eventually take the place of humans in this area. When I first thought about this question, my initial answer was that robots should be used ahead of humans when it comes to space exploration, simply because they are able to withstand harsher conditions and have immunity to disease that may be present in the atmosphere.
I decided to research this further to see if there are any benefits to sending human astronauts into space. The first article I looked at further backed up my initial opinion. It said that most astronomers will tell you that virtually anything a human can do on another planet, a robot can do, only cheaper and without the risk of losing a life. With money being a major issue for many people when they compare the importance of space exploration with major issues happening here on Earth (for example disease), the thought of cheaper alternatives can only be a good thing, as it would free up funds for us to deal with other problems that might be seen as more important.
Recently, robots have done all the planetary exploration in the solar system. In past decades, rovers, landers, and orbiters have visited the moon, asteroids and comets, every planet in the solar system and many of their moons as well, reaching much further than humans have ever been able to go! Humans haven’t played a role in this when it comes to actually being in space, yet we have still managed to gather lots of useful information about these planets. Doesn’t this make humans kind of pointless if robots can do the same job or, in fact, even better?
The NASA website itself seems to favour robots. An article there states that robots can do a lot of things that humans can’t, such as withstand harsh conditions such as extreme temperatures and high levels of radiation. They can also be built to do things that would be too risky (or even impossible) for astronauts. On top of that, robots don’t need to eat or sleep or use the bathroom so, in that way, they are more efficient. The fact that they can survive in outer space for many years without any problems adapting is also an advantage when it comes to exploring planets that are very far away from Earth.
There are, of course, issues with using robots. For example, there are examples of technology in space that have had faulty or malfunctioning parts (which are incredibly expensive to fix). They could also easily lose signal and connection with Earth, making them essential useless.
On the other hand, we can’t deny that humans have their advantages. For example, they can make quick decisions (they have brains after all whereas robots are only programmed!) in response to changing conditions or new discoveries, rather than waiting for time-delayed instructions from Earth. They are also more mobile than current robot explorers, which means they can more around more. The astronauts in the Apollo 17 mission covered more than 22 miles in three days, a distance that has taken the Mars Opportunity rover eight years to match. On top of that, humans have the ability to drill for samples deep underground and deploy large-scale geologic instruments, something that no rover has ever achieved.
James Garvin, the chief scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre seems to think that both humans and robots can be used alongside each other. He said that, "There isn't a battle between robots and humans – that's comparing apples and oranges. We send the robots as our pathfinders and scouts, and they open the frontiers so that we can decide where and when to send the people."
In conclusion, I feel that the most effective thing to do would be for humans and robots to work alongside each other to explore as much of the solar system as possible for a compromised cost. My question now is, will there come a time where humans are no longer needed at all in space exploration? If it comes to down to purely cost and efficiency, will NASA decide to utilise robots instead?
What do you think?