Rhodri Evans (Solidarity 604) quotes Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, who described the advances provided by the International Space Station as “meagre” to support his opposition to increased human space flight.
Quoting this, whilst ignoring Rees’s belief in humanity’s expansion into the Galaxy on the basis of discovery and adventure, is however remarkably short-sighted. Rees rightly believes that the durability of robots makes them better suited to certain aspects of space flight, but has never ruled out human involvement in, nor humanity’s desire to explore space.
Whilst probes have been flung into the furthest reaches of our Solar System and are collecting essential information on our planetary and cosmic origins, robotic dexterity and maintenance requirements make some discoveries impossible without the support of humans. Unless Rhodri (who is well-versed in the limitations of robotics) wishes to limit scientific advances to those only possible with remote-operated instrumentation, he must accept the need for human space exploration too.
He states that “since 1972 no government has found sending humans… beyond low Earth orbit worthwhile”. This being the case, since 1972, all governments have failed, and humanity is poorer for it. That said, Rhodri may wish to read more on NASA’s Gateway and Artemis programmes, which plan to develop capabilities to put humans back on the Moon, and then Mars. Although missions to land humans on the Lunar and Martian surfaces have been sorely lacking in the last five decades, it is at least understood that scientific advance has been slowed as a result. This is now (hopefully) being corrected.
Finally Rhodri challenges the cause that Gagarin served. But Gagarin proved human space flight possible, and opened up endless possibilities for scientific discoveries, of the kind we can only yet imagine. His contribution to science is worth remembering.
Lewis Joyes, Cambridge