When the Space Shuttle Atlantis rolled to a stop in July 2011, NASA bid farewell to the nation's symbol of manned spaceflight. The Obama administration has scrapped NASA's plan to return humans to the Moon by 2020, which was behind schedule because of technical and budgetary problems. As financial constraints threaten the possibility of future ventures into outer space, many in the astronomical community are advocating for the increased use of unmanned robotic space, arguing that they will serve as more efficient explorers of planetary surfaces than astronauts. The next giant leap, then, will be taken with robotic feet.
Dr. Ian A. Crawford thinks it should be otherwise. A professor of planetary sciences at Birkbeck College, London, Crawford makes the case for human space exploration in a new paper entitled Dispelling the myth of robotic efficiency: why human space exploration will tell us more about the Solar System than will robotic exploration alone, published recently in the journal Astronomy and Geophysics. If the goal of space travel is to expand our knowledge of the universe, argues Dr. Crawford, exploration will be most effective when carried out by astronauts rather than robots on the surface of a planet.
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