Manned Space Flight: The Future of Humanity Essay
Manned Space Flight: The Future of Humanity
It’s been nearly thirty-nine years since astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human being to step foot on the surface of the moon. Almost four decades have passed since the day that the world heard him utter the words that are now immortalized in time, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” (Hansen). Since that historical day in space exploration, we have come much farther than many imagined we could.
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Technology has advanced drastically, providing the means for launching dozens of robotic probes into the most unimaginable, far reaches of the universe. However, from the time of moon walking astronauts, we have entered an era that restrains these explorers safely behind desks on the comfort of planet Earth. To many, it seems most logical to explore space by these means. Unfortunately, while unmanned space flights might be less expensive and are obviously far less dangerous, human space flight holds a greater benefit to humanity than those missions executed by robots.
Highly controversial in the scientific community, there are many arguments that support either side of the manned versus unmanned space flight debate. The majority of these perspectives siding with the idea that robots can efficiently do what man can do, only for less money and with the least risk to human lives. Be that the case, still it is blatantly apparent that a robot is far less capable than a human astronaut, who is equipped with a brain to carry out the functions which even the most advanced technology cannot. Even more important, we must consider the rate of failure endured on these robotic missions, and the public views on sending machines into space to do the job which we have reserved for the bravest of humans. Most interesting however, we must take into account the purpose of space exploration in the first place, to allow the human race to survive infinitely, by introducing life to planets other than Earth (Hsu). When we look at the evidence, the reality becomes clear. Space exploration should be saved for walking, breathing astronauts, leaving the robots on the ground.
As is the case with all aspects of life, money is by far the biggest factor in the space program. Moreover, this is the argument most relatable to the public, whose support of cheaper unmanned flights can often become a grand scale political issue. When it comes to manned versus unmanned space flights, robotic missions are far less expensive than those executed by humans. To sustain human life on a space craft, obviously certain needs must be met. Astronauts require food, water, and oxygen to survive in space which costs money, and robots do not. Furthermore, the complex machinery necessary to sustain life is not only costly, but also quite heavy (Connolly). This weight, alongside the weight of a crew of astronauts, means that more fuel will be used to launch the space craft off the ground in the first place, not even considering the cost while in orbit. Physorg.com journalist Chuck Rahls asserts that for the cost of one manned mission, NASA could execute two or even three unmanned (Rahls).
Perhaps this is not the best evidence that manned flights are, by far, more efficient, that is until we consider the rate of failure of unmanned missions. Rahls further provides that the cost of one manned launch is estimated at around seven hundred and fifty million dollars, approximately half of that of an unmanned launch (Rahls). However, with the vast amount of failures endured by NASA involving these robotic missions, it seems the money spent is, for the most part, a waste. For instance, consider the Mars Exploration Program. Out of thirty-one unmanned missions launched by Russia, The United States, and Japan, all but ten failed. Out of that small fraction, only five actually met the goals that they were set out to achieve upon launch, around six percent (Rahls). Meaning, over three billion dollars were spent on unsuccessful unmanned missions that one manned flight could have accomplished for a significantly less amount of money. When we do the math, it seems that in the long run manned missions are in fact far more economical than sending robots into space.
Next we should take into account the fact that the robots, no matter how technologically advanced, cannot do the same things that humans can. While robotic machines can gather information and take pictures, they lack the brain to allow them to think critically or make educated decisions on the spur of the moment. Since these probes are used mostly for taking samples, geologists are convinced that more could be accomplished on one manned mission than on dozens of unmanned flights (Rahls). It is likely that this assumption is indeed quite accurate. Humans have brains which function far quicker than a robot can send signals back and forth to Earth. An astronaut can see, feel, and use their experience to gather information that is not only important, but relevant. Robots might gather the same information time and time again. Not only once again proving that manned space flights are more economical, since fewer missions will need to be executed, but also illustrating the fact that unmanned flights are quite often, a waste of time as well.
Yet another interesting argument is the purpose of exploring space in the first place. Jeremy Hsu of Space.com provides that the goal of the space program has always been ensuring, “the survival of the human race through the colonization of other planets” (Hsu). Why then should NASA waste time, energy, and money on a program that determines nothing of the sort? Without sending manned flights into space, there is no way of knowing whether or not mankind can survive there. The idea of sending robotic probes to other planets makes sense, and we have sent plenty, but now is the time to send humans in an attempt to fulfill the original purpose of the space program.
Many supporters of unmanned space flights stress the safety factor involved in sending humans into orbit. Some advocates even refer to manned space missions as “suicide missions” (Hsu). We are all aware of the most recent disasters regarding manned space craft such as The Challenger and Columbia, but accidents are just as likely to occur even when humans are not on board a shuttle. There are always risks associated with launching foreign objects into space. There is no guarantee that robotic probes will not explode upon take off, potentially harming humans. Furthermore, there is the risk that these unmanned flights could collide with anything in space, causing debris to come hurling back into the Earth’s atmosphere, or even say the space station. Unfortunately, when it comes to space exploration, there is always risk and danger involved.
Safety is indeed an issue. Even still we must consider the public input and influence on space exploration. Imagine the excitement felt around the world on that day in 1969 when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Visualize the magnitude of hope it instilled in Americans both young and old. Then, children dreamed of becoming astronauts and exploring the unknown. Now it seems robots have taken over the job. Even still, people have an opinion regarding the issue, and the public view plays a huge roll in the funding of space exploration. Not surprisingly, it seems that most Americans would rather see humans in space than robots. Recent polls have shown that nearly eighty percent of those responding would prefer to see manned flights rather than unmanned flights, even taking into account the past failures and the cost of even one launch (Rauls). This statistic has the potential to sway the space program since it is a political issue of sorts. NASA is a government program and therefore, the public plays a role in electing officials who either support or disagree with their own opinion. Furthermore, private funding comes from corporations and businesses who feel that the space exploration program is moving in the right direction. In order for NASA to have the money to continue exploring the far reaches of space, it needs to respect the view of the majority of Americans by sending astronauts in to space rather than robotic probes.
There is no doubt that there are pros and cons regarding the debate of manned versus unmanned space exploration, but it seems that the evidence only illustrates the need to send human beings into space rather than robots. The majority of the public wants to see astronauts in space, walking on the moon, and exploring other planets, and it is clear that the remainder only support the unmanned missions due to lack of education. NASA’s original purpose was to allow humans to inhabit other planets. Therefore, humans should be doing the job that we so frequently assign to machines. Humans are more capable of using judgment and making decisions, meaning that astronauts are more efficient than robotic missions. Furthermore, while the cost of one unmanned launch is significantly less than that of a manned launch, the failure rate of unmanned missions is staggering. The amount that we spend on failures is by far more than the cost of sending humans into space. Finally, although it is dangerous to launch humans into space, there is risk either way, so it only makes sense to allow humans to do the job.
Connolly, Matthew. “We Don’t Give Ticker Tape Parades for Robots: Humanity and The Lure of
Space Travel.” Science and Technology Spring 20071997 07 May 2008
Hansen, James R. “Armstrong, Neil Alden.” World Book Online Reference Center. 2005. World
Book, Inc. <http://www.worldbookonline.com/wb/Article?id=ar031060>.
Hsu, Jeremy. “Merging Man and Machine To Reach the Stars.” Space.com. 28 Mar 2008.
Imaginova Corporation. 7 May 2008 <http://www.space.com/entertainment/080328-
Rahls, Chuck. “Manned vs Unmanned Space Exploration (Part One).” Physorg.com. 23 Nov
2005. Physorg.com. 7 May 2008 <http://physorg.com/news8442.html>.
Rahls, Chuck. “Manned vs Unmanned Space Exploration (Part Two).” Physorg.com. 25 Nov
2005. Physorg.com. 7 May 2008 <http://physorg.com/news8479.html>.
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