Future space missions will see human and robotic partnering
The current Space Shuttle mission – STS-120 – [Oct-Nov 2007] is perhaps one of the last 8-10 shuttle missions NASA will execute between now and 2010, assuming no major set-backs occur.
So, as the Shuttle Program begins to wind down and perform its last mission perhaps in 2010, how will space exploration transition between now and then?
According to NASA (NASA. NASA’s future: The Vision for Space Exploration, Feb 2004 | PDF), we are going to see a synergistic partnership between robotic explorers and human explorers. We’ve come a long way since the late 50s and early 60s when the Russian and United States space exploration programs used monkeys as test-explorers.
Sam the rhesus monkey flew to an apogee of 88 km in 1959. (NASA)
And if plans proceed accordingly the next explorers to visit the Moon will apparently be robotic, not human. What are NASA’s objectives for the forthcoming robotic explorers?
- Obtain scientific data
- Assess risks for human explorers/astronauts for similar missions
- Demonstrate breakthrough technologies
- Identify space resources
- Send imagery of space back to earth.
And how will the objectives of human explorers differ from that of their robotic explorer partners?
- Conduct in-depth research
- Direct and upgrade advanced robotic explorers
- Prepare space resources
- Demonstrate new exploration capabilities
NASA officials say that the first robotic explorer mission to the Moon could take place as early as 2008, and the first human explorer missions could come as early as 2015. Until then, NASA is undergoing a major revamping and re-tooling.
Source: NASA. NASA’s Future: The Vision for Space Exploration, Feb 2004 (p.3)