“And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close, with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth.” Frank Boreman Apollo 8
“Robotic exploration is to real exploration as masturbation is to glorious, loving sex.”- Anonymous
Nothing is more irrelevant than the supposition, even if true, that robots can carry out space exploration better than humans. The exploration of space is not only a matter of thrust ratios, frequencies and angstroms; it is a matter both of our survival and of our spiritual and moral growth as a species. Are we merely dust that through some accident of cosmic proportions has become aware of itself? Are we the only life in all the long, lonely, light-years? Or are we travelers in time and space on a journey searching for “The Meaning of it All?”
That search proceeds outward in every direction every day. Down into the microbe and the most basic bits of life, outward into the heavens at the limits of visual, X-ray and radio telescopes. It continues in quiet moments when we contemplate the universe in our individual lives, whether in a monk’s meditation at a monastery, a child’s prayer, or the appreciation of some wild and untouched place.
This is the distinction between us and our machines. The plucky rovers on Mars are not plucky- that is anthropomorphism. Nor are they exhilarated by the awe and mystery that reaches from, “the inner mind to the Outer Limits.” They will never call back from Mars saying, “Mars is so cool!” and refer to anything more than the temperature. They are not self-aware. They have no possibility of an existence after this, no chance that they could ever be more than they are at this moment.
Can’t we get our thrills secondhand? No. A camera is not an eye and a rover is not a person. Does anyone believe that Sojourner on Mars had the impact of Neil Armstrong’s “One small step for man” on our moon? We go to the ocean depths, the clouds and the vacuum beyond, not merely for commerce, not only to fight our battles, but to gain new perspectives on our condition, and ourselves, to obtain new measurements for our awareness.