People wonder why the general public lost interest with space exploration, but we need to look no further than all the excitement every six-wheeler is experiencing right now, as they watch their six-wheeled brothers, the daring explorers of Mars.
I am an engineer. I can comprehend and I do have the ultimate respect for the genius that allows us to land and operate robots on Mars, but that's the same genius that allowed us to land people on the Moon and, sadly, this is something we don't do anymore because it's too expensive. And we refuse to spend money on that while, at the same time, we fight unnecessary wars against the dictators we financed in the past. There is water ice on the Moon, probably a lot of it. There are minerals, abundant energy, just enough gravity to make industrial processes easy and a high grade vacuum that's the dream of every metallurgist. With these resources, we can become a true spacefaring civilization fit to meet our neighbors from the other islands floating around our sun.
We shouldn't do with robots the work of humans.
In short, as soon as large hairless mammals are involved in the mission, 99% of the mission's resources are suddenly consumed with keeping said large hairless mammals fed, watered, breathing, amused, etc. So basically, there's nothing left to do anything of much value, especially on any kind of reasonable budget.
Cost is the main reason robots have gone all over the Solar System and beyond, and the farthest any humans go these days is to LEO to hang out at the ISS.
Yes, humans make everything more complicated, but without them, there's not much point in doing anything.
There's a lot to yet to discover in space. Developing better tools, robots for example, to explore our solar system will also benefit us on earth. At some point the costs will drop and it will become safer, or we'll discover something valuable that we'll want to bring back.
If you look 100 years out, which route get use to having he most people in space? Let's release early and release often.
Have you seen the type of landing solutions they're coming up with for the robots? They're all going in a direction driven by the realization that since they're not humans, they can afford to take far higher risks and subject them to stress that would otherwise be completely intolerable, so they're explicitly not trying to address the complexities of bringing humans into space.
I'm happy for work on robot probes to go on, but that's no reason to not also invest more resources in the groundwork for cheaper human space flight.
If we happen to discover something amazing that would be interesting or beneficial to walk up next to at incredible risk and expense, then perhaps we would do a manned mission. But its far far too limiting to send people in every direction to do the exploratory probing. You can explore a 1000x more volume of space with robots than you can with manned missions. We can't even see anything worth sending humans to with telescopes.
We don't make manned space probes for roughly the same reason we don't make manned torpedos. There's no point to the expense and risk. Use the right tool for the right job and put down the science fiction.
We must stop our collective procrastination. Human spaceflight is the ultimate forcing function.
It is entirely possible that our first contact with intelligent life will be with that life's robots. Just saying.
Robots are a cost-effective way to explore space. You can send them on missions that don't have to be hyper-controlled for the preservation of life. You can send them on one-way missions, vastly extending the distance that a mission can cover. With manned missions, by contrast, the loss of even one life is an unacceptable casualty. Ergo, you need to overengineer the craft, and also load it up with all manner of food, living space, life support, waste management facilities, sufficient fuel for a return voyage, etc. -- all of which add lots of mass to the craft, which adds enormous fuel costs, etc.
I agree that we should return to manned space exploration as soon as possible. That said, I don't find space exploration to be a zero-sum game between manned and unmanned missions. We should be using a diversified approach -- one that focuses on manned colonization, coupled with robotic deep-space exploration and surveying.
If we spent just a comparably tiny bit more on science, I believe the advances would be absolutely huge. Science drives technology, which in turn drives the economy. It's a win-win for everybody and yet we keep putting our money into things that have proven not to work reliably in the past without a second thought.
(On a sidenote: I do tend to get quite angry when speaking about banks these days, please excuse that ;))
The bottom line is that Bags of Mostly Water don't belong in space. Our only hope for colonizing the solar system is to do most of the heavy lifting with robots. And if I were one of those colonists, I would sleep easier under the martian moons knowing that I had an army of space robots to help me with any problems that arise.
Humans find ways to explore the universe while keeping themselves alive. Let's embrace it
Would you send a robot to the top of a mountain if you could, or do you want to climb it yourself?
Our approach today is not unreasonable or atypical of past expeditions.
For better or worse, humans are narrative creatures. Note the recent talk of funding a Mars mission by treating it as a reality show.
Our approach is reasonable. But since people are unreasonable, the reasonable approach may not be the best one.
We just happen to be tied to a water-filled, fertile, and atmospherically suitable planet - the only one of this kind we can reach with our current technology. Looking to the stars is an easy way to ignore problems of over-consumption, over-population and climate change. If we don't figure out how to live on this planet, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes elsewhere.
Let's pull our gaze back down to Earth: our capital is better spent addressing Earthly problems vice sending us out on an inter-planetary expedition.
Planetary Resources is going in the right direction. Capturing humanity's imagination is a good start; capturing their investment capital is what actually gets things done.
I would love for all wars to end, for all the military budget to go to NASA instead, and for us to become a truly inter-planetary civilization, but that's just not a realistic wish, at least not for the next decades.
But robots. Robots we can do now. Curiosity landing on Mars next week. It can do truly amazing things, scientifically more than a team of humans could.
Add to that a parcel of additional moons and other other bodies that show indications of having sub-surface oceans (Triton, Enceladus, Pluto, Rhea, Titania, Eris, Sedna, Orcus, and Oberon).
On Titan, the role of the semi-liquid rock is played by the "ocean" (and the crust is played by the solid water ice layer ontop).
It might have an exotic form of ice, of course.
Here when we see water outside of it's natural state (liquid) it's frozen or evaporated. Out there ice (solid) is the natural state, so it's molten or (vaporized ???).
...and for accompanying news article in Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/336/6089/1629
I just hope the first aliens we encounter are not plant based or they will take one look at us and our use of there dead relatives and it will not go well. Food for thought.
The reason oil is so popular is because it is so useful. Anything useful is in high demand. There's no need to get hysterical about it.