cover image The End of Astronauts: Why Robots are the Future of Exploration

The End of Astronauts: Why Robots are the Future of Exploration

Donald Goldsmith and Martin Rees. Belknap, $25.95 (176p) ISBN 978-0-674-25772-6

Astrophysicists Goldsmith (Exoplanets) and Rees (On The Future) offer an evenhanded presentation of the pros and cons of using robots instead of astronauts for space exploration. They examine near-Earth orbit missions (such as work on the International Space Station), as well as voyages to the moon, Mars, asteroids, and the outer solar system. In each case, the authors conclude that the future of space exploration should be placed in robotic hands despite several advantages currently held by humans, mostly having to do with cognition and decision-making—though “the advantages that human explorers now hold over robots will continue to diminish as advances in AI and technology increase the robots’ abilities.” In the end, robotic missions are cheaper, safer, more likely to succeed, and eliminate the need to figure out how to keep humans alive in transit for years. Goldsmith and Rees provide plenty of data to back up their arguments, and balance optimism with logic: “If we choose wisely, examine our motivations, and use our robotic emissaries for exploration, a better outcome awaits us than if we insist that humans must go into space.” It lands as a provocative primer on the future of space travel. (Mar.)