Unmanned space missions will free up more cash for scientific research
A few days ago, I blogged on NASA’s insane and delusional plans to build a manned base on the Moon. My point was not that this is intrinsically a bad idea, but rather that we will never spend the money required to do this … so money spent now is basically wasted.
A commenter made the oft-repeated but difficult-to-substantiate claim that the manned space program was responsible for the development of many of the great technologies that we enjoy today. Yesterday, the NYT had a pretty good article that goes a long way to debunking this.
Let me be clear. I’m all for exploring the universe. But sending men to do the job is not the right approach (at least right now).
It’s going to take 20 years and trillions of dollars to put men on Mars. But we presently have two extremely capable scientists on Mars — the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. They work 24 hours per day, they don’t get sick or complain, and they work for sunlight.
Spirit and Opportunity demonstrate the folly of the Moon-Mars program. The rovers have produced a mountain of good data for a price tag that’s hundreds if not thousands of times cheaper than sending humans.
Unfortunately, as we spend more and more money on sending man into space, the unmanned missions are getting squeezed. That means that real science is not getting done, and that’s the real tragedy here.
We might eventually decide that humans need to be sent, but given the costs, I think we are far away from that point today.
Update [2007-9-27 22:21:4 by Andrew Dessler]: Eric Berger over at SciGuy has a good entry on what kind of odds Vegas is putting on us going to the Moon and Mars.
Update [2007-9-27 23:11:16 by Andrew Dessler]:The intrepid scientists that are currently on Mars have been in the news recently. Tell me again why we need to send humans?]