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Keeping Humans in Space

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NASA Image from Apollo 11Being a space exploration fan (hard not to be when you're a trekkie), I try to keep up with the news and commentaries on the subject. I was disappointed with this recent article in which an respected scientist criticizes manned space missions.

In his view, many of NASA's projects that revolve around putting men in space should be scrapped or at least robots should be used instead. He reasons that the cost of such projects do not justify the returns as the public is no longer dazzled or intrigued by seeing humans in space.

The argument does have some merit. Astronauts are no longer the hero celebrities they once were and their news are generally drowned out in the ocean of other headlines. To a scientist such as Steven Weinberg, only the tangible and the measurable can have any value. What he misses is that capturing people's imagination is just as important if we are to continue with the business of exploring the space.

Look at how much fanfare comes out of China every time they send a man up. There's national pride, a feeling of involvement and accomplishment, albeit by proxy, and international recognition.

There is yet the private side of space exploration to consider. Manned space flights have paved the way for private industries to ratchet up their plans to make space flight a possibility for average citizens. As more money pours into the private sector, more research and more exploration could ensue. That's positive news for the space industry as a whole.

People who are bored with humans in space would be bored even faster with machines in space. And they would be completely disinterested in some esoteric contraption carrying out some incomprehensible experiment in space whose champions would be a handful of babbling and over-excited scientists. Cutting the humans out to save money for other space projects may end up killing even more of those projects as those budgets shrivel up due to lack of public interest and support.


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