November 26, 2012
Much discussion by members of the Planetary Society is a debate between choosing to support manned or robotic exploration projects. The robotics people cite the smaller cost and risk. On the other hand, the idea of a living being walking on another planetary body or journeying to deep space is infinitely attractive. With planning, the Society might be able to contribute to both kinds of programs. Because the politics of democracy is, by its very nature, a short term process, exploration by national governments will likely be robotic. Robotic exploration rests on technological research and development. While manned space exploration also requires technological R & D, it requires social, psychological, and physiological R & D as well. The latter requires time to develop and is therefore unattractive to politicians who must worry about the next election. The Society could, if it wished, devote a part of its resources to R & D for manned expeditions. Although it would be a small contribution compared to the resources devoted to technological development, R & D in social, psychological, and physiological projects could return significant results at small cost. In any case, it is unlikely manned expeditions will happen without social, psychological, and physiological R & D. In centuries past, societies took several hundred years to build cathedrals demonstrating that long term planning is possible. I would like to see the Society form a Cathedral Committee to plan and develop methods for enabling humans to eventually journey to other planetary bodies and venture into deep space.
An asteroid or comet headed for Earth is the only large-scale natural disaster we can prevent. Working together to fund our Shoemaker NEO Grants for astronomers, we can help save the world.