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The final mission of Space Shuttle Atlantis has spawned a whole series of perspective pieces on the history, state, and future of space exploration. Some, like the YouTube video "NASA's increase of awesome to continue," are unabashedly exuberant celebrations of the future in store for us in space; others, like this thoughtful piece in Technology Review entitled "Was the Space Shuttle a Mistake?," are depressingly and effectively critical of the cost both in dollars (more than $200 billion) and in human lives lost (14 astronauts plus at least 6 ground support staff) of the Shuttle program. Some authors have even posited the end of the space age altogether, as in a piece subtitled "Inner space is useful. Outer space is history" in The Economist.

While some of these articles make throwaway references to the number of robotic missions that could have been launched for the cost of one Shuttle flight (estimates range from $450 million per launch, one Discovery-class mission, up to $1.6 billion per launch, half a Flagship mission), there has been little analysis to date of the relative merits of human exploration vs. robotic exploration.

In a word, yes.  To read the rest of the article, click here.
Category: Science