Robots, rovers, and rockets
Many unpiloted vehicles have flown throughout the solar system with phenomenal results. Soviet space probes landed on the surface of Venus in the 1970s and 1980s, and survived crushing pressures and oven-scale temperatures long enough to transmit information about the planet. NASA’s Cassini probe, which orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017, identified the icy moon Enceladus as possibly one of the best places to look for extraterrestrial life. New robot probes are being designed to survive on Venus for hours or even longer.
The human factor
One argument against ending human spaceflight is that astronauts can make judgment calls that robots cannot. Human lunar exploration in the 1970s has been hailed as one of NASA’s greatest accomplishments. Thanks to intensive training, two of the astronauts during this period had the equivalent of master’s degrees in geology. One had a doctorate in geology. This expertise paid off as the lunar crews made on-the-spot decisions about experiments and the selection of moon samples.
It may take a long time for artificial intelligence to approach the sophistication of the human brain.
In the meantime, how should space exploration proceed—with astronauts, robots, or both?