Of Monkeys, Robots, and Humans in Space

I've re-watched "The Right Stuff" over the last week. Can't help but laugh at the stubborn persistence of NASA to send up Monkeys before humans. It's also a sour reminder that NASA's true mission was doomed to failure before it began.

NASA was built on the ideal that regular people would one day go into space. That means me, you, everybody would get a chance. And NASA would usher the way into the Cosmos. That didn't happen.

Part of that you can see with the idea of sending the apes into space first. The technology that was developed was developed with a chimp in mind. They didn't allow for too much human control, Engineers wanted the control. So they built to remove the human element from the equation. The human would be a payload and nothing more. And what was worse the space technology developed was built with the idea that a huge government would be backing it up.

Then I read this piece on Robot exploration of the solar system. I can't help but see a dangerous recurring pattern.

NASA once wanted to send a Monkey first, now they want to send a buckle of bolts and wires first.

How does this really benefit us? The argument for sending monkeys first was that we could see how they would respond to weightlessness. Was that the real reason? Or was it because they wanted to make sure that these rockets wouldn't blow to smithereens their public "heroes" that were the original Mercury Astronauts?

That's the worst part, when you come to the realization that the Mercury missions had nothing to do with getting humanity into space - - it was a PR stunt. That's all NASA at it's core is: a huge publicity stunt for the US.

Now they want to send Robots first. Forget trying to build a justifiable economy in space, or trying to encourage private industry to explore space, instead lets send an army of robots to explore first.

I hate to say this, and probably Robot Guy will be ticked, but I'm starting to wonder what real use Pathfinder or any of these other robotic missions have played.

I've said this time and time again, finding life on another planet won't have the effect that some believe it will have. If we find some microbe on another planet people aren't suddenly going to go into a space frenzy and lobby Congress to divert funds to space exploration. So the search for life is a pretty void argument.

What has robotic exploration really given us? It has, in some rare cases, like the Lunar Prospector, given us mappings of lunar ice deposits. Now that's useful for lunar settlement and resource utilization. For the most part though, government robotic exploration missions might make nice desktop wallpapers and posters on my wall, but they don't bring us any closer to getting you and me into space.

You want to find out if there are real ice deposits on Mars or on the Moon? Send a human there and have them hold it in their hands... Have them test out mining methods... Have them built infrastructure...

This focus on Robotic missions has suddenly made it apparent to me that, just like sending monkeys first, it might also be a sign that this new exploration thrust by NASA might end up with the same result that the first did: nothing.

If the focus is not on getting real human beings, live flesh and blood, people with faults, people from all countries and all religions, into the cosmos, then it really doesn't matter does it? Nothing's wrong with having robotic missions, or sending a bunch of monkeys first, but the problem is a persistent wasteful focus on these types of missions.

That is unless NASA takes this route.

Robotic missions aren't the problem, the problem is that a focus on them might be a signal that NASA still hasn't learned from Apollo at all.

1 comment:

  1. Ticked? not me.