Will astronauts become obsolete?

The future of space exploration may be a job for robots.

When Neil Armstrong announced his giant moon leap for mankind, that was pretty hype. And to this day, there are few things as cool as being an astronaut.

Will astronauts become obsolete?

But now, astrophysicist Donald Goldsmith and Martin Rees, the UK’s Astronomer Royal, argue in their book The End of Astronauts that space exploration might actually be a gig for robots.

Why, robot?

For one, it’s expensive to keep our fragile meat sacks alive in space:

  • The Perseverance rover mission to Mars cost ~$2.75B. Establishing a moon base for humans would cost $100B+.
  • Astronauts have repaired the Hubble Space Telescope 5 times at a cost of ~$1B each mission (inflation adjusted). For that amount, NASA could have built ~7 telescopes.

Robots, who don’t die without food or oxygen, can also explore greater distances. They’ve already been to every planet in our solar system (and some of their moons), comets, and an asteroid. Humans can only reach the moon and Mars.

But they do lack that human touch

Robots can do a lot of what we can do, like collect and return samples.

But Goldsmith and Rees admit they can’t identify collection spots like a geologist can. To fully replace people, AI and tech will need to advance a lot.

That might not happen for a while, meaning humans and bots will probably remain partners. But moreover…

… space travel isn’t just NASA’s game anymore

Companies like Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Virgin Galactic have shown people will shell out big bucks to be yeeted into space in a cowboy hat.

With aspirations of tourism, mining, and other for-profit activities, the final frontier is unlikely to be bots only.

BTW: In Russia, there’s a monument to Laika, a stray dog who in 1957 became the 1st animal to orbit Earth. Laika did not survive her trip, though several subsequent Soviet space dogs did.

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Topics: Space

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