This week at Quirks & Quarks we dedicate the entire episode to the question: "Do people need to be in space?"
It's an interesting debate about whether robots are a better way to explore other worlds. But in reality, this is not the case nor / or. We need both.
While the world is preparing to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first people to walk on the moon on July 20th, there will be little mention of the robots that first went there. Neil Armstrong and Base Aldrin would not have been able to take those first steps if they were not for a fleet of robotic probes that prematurely fished on the moon to inspect the lying on the ground and identify the best spots to touch.
Robotic spacecraft play a key role in the research
The probe, such as Surveyor, landed on the surface and showed that the ground was strong enough to support the spacecraft. One fear at the time was that after billions of years of bombarding objects from the universe, the surface of the moon would be powdery in fine powder, so it would deeply devour any craft that would attempt to land there. The geologic legs barely lit on the surface, showing that the dust is not as deep as the scientists feared.
Russian Russian Lunodhod, the size of a bathtub, became the first vehicles to move on the moon, a feat that Americans experienced in the Apollo missions as their dual-lunar lunar rover drove over the surface as a dune convertible.
When it comes to space exploration, robots do early reconnaissance and basic science. They first fly past the planets just to see what's there. Then orbit the map on the surface followed by landings – whenever possible – it actually touches it. The robots were not only on the moon, but explored each planet in our solar system.
Human missions are the ultimate human adventure
Human missions are most commonly pushed to the limits of human endurance, where well-trained, physically fit astronauts and cosmonauts tolerate the stresses of launch and landing, the negative effects of prolonged body weight, and the risks inherent in living in an extreme environment. It is the ultimate human adventure, which provides real models for young people and seeks the highest technology to protect those people there. It's also much more expensive.
The Partnership for Human Robots in Space is similar to the hunter with dogs running forward to locate the booty. Robots run forward to sniff territories, identify the most interesting locations, and test the soil, and then people follow.
If and when we discover life in our solar system
A great quest for space exploration is a search for life. If robots find life on Mars, or in the ice of Jupiter and Saturn, it can prevent people from going to their father. The presence of another's life causes a huge issue of contamination between the planets. Protocols have already been established for planetary protection, where the spacecraft intended for landing on Mars is sterilized to prevent the spread of Earth's microorganisms on the red planet. Mars microorganisms may not have any resistance to our alien invaders, so we could inadvertently cause local dying, similar to European researchers who have brought disease to North American natives.
Sending people to Mars makes this issue more serious. People are very dirty beasts. We are constantly releasing waste products from our bodies, our breath, our food, something we touch. It would be immediately impossible to send people to Mars without contaminating the environment with microbes.
The Martian forms of life can be destroyed by human sneeze, which is exactly what happened in the fictional story, War of the Worlds, where invincible Martians that ruined the Earth eventually became victims of the common cold. The broken virus was taken over by high technology aliens invaders. We do not want to become invasive species that destroy the life of other planets, or worse, for us, contaminated by foreign organisms for which we have no resistance.
This is one of the reasons why the search for life in other worlds is so important. If found, perhaps these worlds will become excluded for people, so research will be done only through intelligent robots, while people will move around the virtual reality of the Earth.
In any case, our thirst for new knowledge and natural desires to explore brings us through our solar system. And while we dare to fascinate new places, along with our robotic companions, perhaps the biggest lesson we will learn, as we did from the moon missions of Apollo, is what we see when we return home, back to a small, beautiful and precious blue planet, blue marble, the crown jewel of the solar system.