Monday, March 17, 2008

Oh that Dextre!

I am a fan of manned space flight, I always have been, and I always will be. I am a fan not because of the science we can discover by sending people into space, but mostly because of the inspiration manned space flight (so much more than robotic missions) can provide for young and old people alike.

However, some people like to play the "it's good science" game with manned space flight. Good for them for fighting the good fight. Most of the time it comes down to biological experimentation, and I completely agree that the most beneficial science that can come from manned space flight is studying the human body and natural systems in microgravity or weightlessness.

This focus on biological systems in space is one of the reasons I thought it was pretty funny that astronauts today installed Dextre, a Canadian-built robot onto the international space station. This robot can complete some of the mundane tasks that heretofore astronauts had to complete with space walks, at great expense and danger to themselves. It is ironic, since the justification of the space station is that people are needed to do good science, that the astronauts have just replaced some of their usefulness with a Canadian robot.

Don't get me wrong, I think it was a great move, to automate everything on the space station that can be automated, so that only the most interesting questions can be addressed by the human astronauts. However, why not naturally move towards no astronauts at all, and fill the station with some Japanese built robots? Hopefully because a station full of robots won't inspire people like Kirk and Spock do.