February 10, 2003
Richard Muller On Benefits Of Unmanned Space Efforts

UC Berkeley Physics Professor Richard Muller argues that the biggest NASA achievements in space in the last two decades did not involve manned missions.

Hubble aside, what would you name as the really glorious achievements of NASA in the last 20 years? My favorite: the discovery that every moon of every planet is significantly different from every other moon, a result completely unanticipated and still not understood. One might also pick the amazing success of weather satellites. Or the remarkable pictures you get from your satellite TV system. Those in the know might pick our space spy systems. Then there’s GPS—the Global Positioning System, used to guide airplanes, boats, hikers, automobiles as well as soldiers and smart weapons. These projects have one thing in common: they were all unmanned.

Note that some of the achievements Muller lists were not done by NASA. GPS was developed by the military. Weather satellites are similarly funded by a different government agency (NOAA? National Weather Service? one of those). For the amount of money that has been spent on manned space trips over the last 20 years we could funded an enormous amount of space science as well as a great deal of technological development of radically more advanced space launch and space travel technologies.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 February 10 01:42 PM  Space Exploration


Comments
Mel Kilna said at August 26, 2003 9:13 AM:

We must not delay in finding a replacement for the shuttle. Far too many good things come from being able to put a human in space, like science experiments in zero gravity, and many other exploration avenues. The Earth has only so many resources to provide, and without the capability of utilizing other possible sources, we are going to doom ourselves to extinction as a species. We can't just wait for "the next step in rocketry" because by the time that comes around, we will have lost years, possibly decades of research, skills development in the space work force, and should we encounter any NEO (Near Earth Orbit) events that are possible extinction events, without working equipment to help deal with the issue, we are leaving not just ourselves at risk, but the earth as a whole.

With a strong system to develop safe and economical shuttle replacement, we get the benefit of keeping the ability to continue on with the space station, and onward to other projects. It's also good for the US to stay in the space program with reliable launch vehicles.

I also think the space program should be funded at about 2-3 times its present rate, to ensure safety and allow for backups of backups. The space program is at least as important as the military, for much the same reasons.

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