I found this great article recently, which I thought I’d share with you. It discusses the future of space exploration, and whether it will be carried out via robotic probes (like Curiosity currently prodding at Mars), or by humans.
Opinion seems to be falling more in the Robot camp than the Human.
There are a few reasons for this: it is easier and cheaper to get a robot to other planets, and when they get there, they have capabilities than no human does. They don’t need to be kept warm, breathing, or fed while they are performing their mission, and perhaps most importantly from the point of view of complexity and cost, we can leave them up there. No-one is going to mind too much if they never come home. Spare a thought for the Voyager missions – just over thirty five years on, they are up to 11 billion miles away from Earth, on the edge of the known solar system, and still heading away into the darkness.
On the other hand, scientists in favour of humans point out that a person can do more in a minute than a robot probe can do in a whole day, and with a lot less instruction. Think of the frustration the Russians must have had when on their mission to Venus, the Venera 13 probe which was to sample the soil came down exactly on the spot where the lens cap from their camera had landed. You’d hope that a human astronaut would have the ability and sense to move the probe!
Humans obviously also have abilities when it comes to maintenance, both of themselves and of other equipment, which a robot would struggle with. Best of all, they are more open to all their senses, not just the ones they are programmed to be aware of.
One (perhaps minor) facet of this argument, it seems to me, is that if in the future we do go down the trail of fully robotic missions, quite a lot of science fiction is going to look pretty silly. So many stories are based around the experiences of people on long space journeys, traveling to and settling other worlds. This perspective, it has to be said, is probably a good deal more interesting than reading about the adventures of robots (Marvin the Paranoid Android being a clear exception!)
I wonder if it is possible to write a genuinely interesting story where the protagonist is a robot, programmed to carry out a specific mission from Earth? Any suggestions? :)