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June 13, 2014 at 1:39 pm

Time to Rethink Manned Space Travel?

Astronauts are training in NASA's new Orion spacecraft at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where Mission Control will oversee an unmanned test flight in a few months.

Astronauts are training in NASA’s new Orion spacecraft at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where Mission Control will oversee an unmanned test flight in a few months.

 

Is it time to rethink manned space travel? Dr. writes Dr. Kenneth Hicks, Ohio University Professor of Physics,  in his May 25 Columbus Dispatch column.

“Transporting astronauts to the International Space Station has always been a problem,” Hicks writes.

“Now, in response to recent economic sanctions from the United States, Russia announced that it plans to stop its ferry service to the ISS after 2020. This has made great fodder for jokes on late-night TV and once again exposed the problem created when NASA mothballed the space shuttle program.

“But NASA is not entirely reliant on Russia for supply missions to the ISS. Two private companies — SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. — have contracts with NASA to send cargo on their rockets to resupply the ISS. In addition, the SpaceX module Dragon can return safely, soft-landing in the ocean with scientific equipment from the ISS.”

Hicks examines NASA’s request to keep the International Space Station operating beyond its original mission to 2020, discussing both the costs already invested and the scientific experiments conducted. “Nonetheless, the idea of having real people living in space is an inspiration to many young people to study science (and not just astronomy). The value of creating inspiration and the subsequent economic impact of scientific discoveries is not a trivial matter for the United States. Few projects are as visible or as motivating as the human space program,” he adds.

Robonaut2 also is in training at the Johnson Space Center's astronaut training facility. Robonaut2 is a highly dexterous humanoid robot.

Robonaut2 also is in training at the Johnson Space Center’s astronaut training facility. Robonaut2 is a highly dexterous humanoid robot.

“But there is a difference between sending humans to the moon and living on the moon. The harsh reality is that opportunities to explore other planets are better achieved with robots than with humans.

“The role of human exploration of space using current technology should be seriously debated. In my view, it’s not enough to say “we should do it” just to fulfill the dream of future exploration. Rather, we should wait to send out people until we’re reasonably sure they won’t die in the attempt.

Read his entire column in the Columbus Dispatch.

(Photos by Lori Bauer)

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