| More than a year has passed since the
space shuttle Columbia broke into pieces over central Texas. This past January
President Bush announced a long-term program of space exploration that would
return human beings to the Moon, and thereafter send them to Mars and beyond. As
this magazine (Natural History) goes to press, the twin Mars Exploration Rovers,
Spirit and Opportunity, are wowing the scientists and engineers at the rovers’
birthplace--NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)--with their skills as robotic
field geologists. JPL’s official rover Web site is being stampeded by visitors.
The confluence of these and other events resurrects a perennial debate: with two
shuttle failures out of 112 missions, and the astronomical expense of the manned
space program, can sending people into space be justified, or should robots do
A. Astronauts can react to unforeseen circumstances.
B. Men can find the valuable sample while robots can’t.
C. Robots don’t have such feeling as surprise like men.
D. Robots can’t collect the samples as exactly as men.