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The Need to Send Humans into Space

Essay by   •  February 19, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  2,023 Words (9 Pages)  •  1,370 Views

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Humans have an innate need to explore. The desire to explore the unknown has been the primary motivator for much of humanity's historical development. In an interview with CNN's former American Morning anchor, Bill Hemmer, NASA's 10th Administrator Sean O'Keefe explained that he believes exploration "is in the human heart. It's what we are about as human beings, ... it's about human nature." The idea of discovery starts during infancy; people use their five senses to hear, touch, smell, see, and taste the world around them all throughout their lives. Human exploration began when prehistoric people migrated from continent to continent, whether it was for the food, shelter, escape from their enemies, or wanderlust. Explorers have discovered new continents, islands, rivers, lakes, and streams. Explorers have also discovered new species of plants, animals, and insects. Whether the discoveries were planned or made by accident, the desire has been the same. There is virtually no place on Earth that hasn't been touched by the curious hand of an explorer. The last frontiers left for important discovery lie in science, curing diseases and exploring our solar system.

People have used telescopes or built observatories to explore the universe centuries before the technology was available to send people and objects into space. The world's journey into space began just over four decades ago, in 1961, with a Russian cosmonaut entering into Earth's orbit followed by an American astronaut's suborbital flight a month later. Since then, scientists and engineers have used their technological abilities to build better space vehicles that carry people to perform zero gravity experiments, launch satellites, and make repairs in space. Along with these advancements, people have also built satellites that can help predict weather patterns and improve communication and navigation systems. Space stations have been successfully built and utilized, proving humans have the ability to live and operate in a space environment for long periods of time. Robotics has been an important element in space exploration since the 1970s. Robots, also known as rovers, have been launched into space to explore the moon, distant planets, and other parts of our solar system. They carry cameras and other instruments that are used to accumulate data for the humans who operate them from offices on Earth. They are, by far, the most cost effective and the safest approach to space exploration. Even so, it is natural for humans to want to continue to explore space and all of its components. Although human spaceflight is hazardous and expensive, using only robots for future space explorations may reduce the overall effectiveness of space expeditions.

Robert Park, physics professor at the University of Maryland and director of the Washington Office of the American Physical Society, is a leading critic of human space flight. He acknowledges that space exploration is an important and valuable undertaking, but that it should be carried out by robots instead of humans and that humans should only go into space for emergency situations (90-92). One of Park's main objections is the dangerous conditions outside of Earth's atmosphere. There are places in the solar system that have extremely high radiation and temperature levels. Also, there is the possibility of going to a place where the gravity is so great that humans can be crushed within its atmosphere. Another reason Park is against human exploration is that the cost of sending humans into space is far greater than sending robots. Although current robots haven't concretely proven that they will be able to do better than humans, Park believes that future generations will be much more advanced and more capable of performing complex tasks. He insists that robots are an extension of Earth-bound scientists and that they have several advantages over humans. Park prefers that robots be called "telerobots" because of their ability to see "microscopically" and "telescopically." This means that robots can focus on a particle that is too small for the naked eye to see, or focus on distant land features, something humans can't do. He believes that robots are better suited for space missions since they don't need to rely on senses the way humans do. Park says that when humans are in spacesuits, they can't feel, they can't smell, and can't hear. They only have the sense of sight to rely on and even that is limited because of the visor (91).

Although astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium, New York City and member of the President's Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy, admits that Park makes several good points, he is a supporter of human space flight. He agrees that robots have several advantages over humans. One advantage Tyson agrees with is that robots aren't affected by hazards such as high-energy cosmic radiation, extreme heat, and extreme cold. He goes on to add that they don't require food or water and don't have to worry about the loss of bone mass due to prolonged exposure to weightlessness. Tyson also states that robots can spend many hours moving around the moon or a planet without having to rest; their movement is only limited by the amount of solar energy their solar arrays receive. Astrochemist and space scientist Wesley Huntress Jr., director of the Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington and also an advocate of human spaceflight, says that robots are not limited by safety concerns such as the need for a life support system. He adds that they are expendable and can be used in places where the risk to human life is too great.

Unlike the robots that Park promotes for space exploration, humans have the ability to think and make educated decisions based on their knowledge, training, and experience. They can make many decisions that are needed to interact with unusual environments. A human can determine which mountain would yield the best samples, which rock or soil sample is the best quality, or even determine when deviation from plans are appropriate; a robot cannot make that decision on its own. According to Tyson, people are able to notice the unexpected, react to unplanned situations, and solve complex problems that a robot may not be able to solve. For example, during Apollo 13's mission to the moon, an explosion occurred during the space flight. The explosion caused severe damage to the life support and electrical systems. Due to human ingenuity, the space crew, with Mission Control's help, was able to use improvised tools and materials to make repairs to the spacecraft and return safely to Earth. If it had been a robot, the robot and



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